Jon Linton likes to say he is an accidental photographer. While he had “fussed around with a camera in the past,” it wasn’t something he planned to do.
Today he is an acclaimed photographer and activist who advocates for the homeless and other underserved populations. He is best known for his “I Have a Name” street photography series as well as his serene and stunning black and white landscape photography.
He is also the featured artist for this year’s 25th annual Hidden in the Hills Artist Studio Tour, taking place the last two weekends of November — November 19 to November 21 and November 26 to November 28.
Coordinated by the nonprofit Sonoran Arts League, the free, self-guided tour features 191 artists at 45 private studios throughout the scenic Desert Foothills communities of Cave Creek, Carefree and North Scottsdale. Linton’s “Barrio Viejo” photograph of the front entrance of a colorful adobe home graces the cover of this year’s highly collectible four-color artist directory.
Linton has been immersed in the art world for more than two decades. After graduating from Eastern Illinois University with a liberal arts degree in 1987, he went on to work for Ralph Lauren in New York City. A displaced Chicagoan, the former art magazine and book publisher has called Phoenix home for nearly three decades.
Influenced by iconic photographers
As the publisher of a prestigious art magazine, Linton was fortunate to meet renowned artists, many of whom became good friends. He began publishing coffee table books of their art, helping to secure their legacies in print.
But Linton had his own artistic ambitions, and he began to spend more time creating his own photographic body of work.
“I’ve always been inspired by iconic black and white photographers, such as Ansel Adams” Linton says. “He was a pioneer whose photographs of the American West are still marveled at today. He was instrumental in advocating for ‘pure’ photography, and I’m a big believer in that approach. It’s a key reason I work primarily in black and white. I believe that in the absence of color, you see the truth that is left behind.”
Linton is also inspired by the late Swiss photographer and documentary filmmaker Robert Frank.
“Robert Frank traveled across the country in the mid-1950s and documented his experiences in a notable book, ‘The Americans,’” Linton says. “He photographed everything from buildings, cars, and people to societal injustices and inequities. His work was both poetic and raw. It was an honest view into American life during that time.”
Magical mustangs at Monument Valley
A chance meeting in Santa Fe with renowned photographer Ray Belcher was a pivotal point in Linton’s life and career.
“I have always been a big fan of Ray’s work, and I mustered up the courage to show him some of my black and white photography,” Linton says.
Linton presented his street photography, explaining that when a good friend who was in the grips of addiction succumbed to a relapse, he decided to use art as a way to honor his memory and give a voice to the homeless.
When presenting his landscape photography, Linton shared how capturing the beauty of nature brings him inner peace.
“My work as a street photographer is very important to me, but I need to find quiet places to center myself again from the pain I see on the streets,” Linton says.
As Belcher reviewed Linton’s landscape photography, he stopped at a photograph of wild mustangs at Monument Valley.
“Ray told me that it was magical and that photographers could go a lifetime and never capture such an incredible moment in time. He told me that I was a talented photographer and that I needed to start showing my work,” he says.
Linton was further encouraged by acclaimed Native American artist Fritz Scholder and Martha Pettigrew, one of the foremost Western contemporary sculptors.
“Martha told me, ‘If you want to be an artist, then just do art,’” he recalls fondly.
The chance conversation with Belcher was six years ago, and since then, Linton has exhibited his work at prestigious shows around the country. In addition, he continues his humanitarian work as founder of the nonprofit organization, Let’s Be Better Humans, which encourages people to help those less fortunate than them. The nonprofit also delivers food and clothing to underserved communities in need.
Welcoming guests to Hidden in the Hills
There were nearly 100 artist entries for the cover of the Hidden in the Hills Artist Studio Tour artist directory, but Linton’s “Barrio Viejo” photograph stood out for its warm, welcoming imagery.
“Jon’s photograph captured the sentiment of our 25th annual event beautifully,” says Jane Boggs, a gourd artist and studio host who serves as the event’s co-chair. “It’s been a challenging time for everyone, and we are eager to welcome collectors and art enthusiasts to our studios for what is sure to be a memorable, uplifting artist studio tour.”
Hidden in the Hills co-chair and mixed media sculptor/studio host Joanie Wolter says the cover art selection is also significant because it is the first time a photographer’s work has been featured on the artist directory cover.
“We had many strong entries, but ‘Barrio Viejo’ really stood out,” Wolter says. “It conveys a warm, welcoming message that resonated with us, and we’re thrilled that Jon will exhibit his new work during the tour this year.”
This is Linton’s first year participating in Hidden in the Hills. The talented artist will exhibit and sell his work at painter Stuart Yankell’s Studio No. 24 in Cave Creek.
“Barrio Viejo” is atypical for Linton, who primarily exhibits black and white photography.
“I was reluctant to move away from black and white imagery. But ‘Barrio Viejo’ did not feel honest absent color, and its truth provides new horizons,” Linton says.
Linton says he was surprised and humbled to be chosen as the cover artist for this year’s milestone Hidden in the Hills event.
“I’m honored and also moved by having my work highlighted in such a prominent way,” he says. “By virtue of being selected as the Hidden in the Hills cover artist, I am already changing the trajectory of my career. I’m now inspired to expand my body of work to include additional imagery in color, and I’m looking forward to unveiling my new work during the artist studio tour.”
Hidden in the Hills
When: November 19 to November 21 and November 26 to November 28
Where: Throughout Cave Creek, Carefree and North Scottsdale