St. George photographer and Purple Heart recipient aims to help others chase dreams

Photographer Jason Mihalick preparing for his first exhibit at the Canyon Community Center, Springdale, Utah, Aug. 13, 2019 | Photo by Andrew Pinckney, St. George News

FEATURE — Live to make memories and don’t worry about the excuses — this is the motto that Southern Utah-based photographer Jason Mihalick lives by.

“Light Trails,” by Jason Mihalick, Zion National Park, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Jason Mihalick, St. George News

Mihalick, who has a seemingly endless supply of optimism, is a combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient who readily admits he has gone through some rough times.

Following his military service in Germany and the Middle East, he said he was a homeless veteran who went through all the “trials and tribulations of reintegration.” After a long road traveled, he says he refused to complain or be a statistic. Rather than be remembered for any of his past, he told St. George News he wants his legacy be in what he’s captured through his lens.

“It’s nice to see people connect with my work. That’s really the ultimate goal.”

Mihalick said he’d love the chance to shake people’s hands at a reception to be held Sunday from 5-7 p.m. at the Canyon Community Center in Springdale where he will explain his process and what he loves about photography.

Barring the few obligatory shots, like Thor’s Hammer in Bryce Canyon or the south rim of the Grand Canyon, you won’t find many prints in his collection of places that a lot of people visit on a daily basis. Instead, with his mirrorless Sony A7 R III in hand, Mihalick prefers to seek out places not many people have had the chance to see, such as unique spots that are not fully accessible to everyone.

“Small Watchman,” by Jason Mihalick, Zion National Park, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Jason Mihalick, St. George News

He uses a process known as focal stacking that enables a level of detail that cannot be captured easily. Using a tripod, he takes multiple shots of the same view but all with a different point of focus. Then, using a computer program, he stacks the images in layers and processes them into one complete scene. 

One completed image takes dozens of photos, sometimes hundreds, before he achieves the final result he’s looking for. Using different apertures and ISOs creates depth, high-resolution and focus. Even with a simple rock, it’s important to have all the details, he said.

“If people are going to connect with my image and with me, I want them to connect with my whole image and all of the meaning,” he explained. He tells people, “Hey, you’re buying the whole photo, right? You’re not just buying part of it.”

At this year’s St. George Art Festival, Mihalick was awarded first place in the digital art category. He said his participation in the festival made him realize that “it is important to have good photography, but then it’s even more important to have people connect with your work. They want to be able to look at those memories, day in and day out, good or bad.”

His image of a lone tree growing in a slot canyon taken near Snow Canyon State Park’s “Newspaper Rock” was a favorite among locals. It was gratifying, he said, because he spent a lot of time in the area exploring the petroglyphs and setting up for the capture.

“People love the story of just being able to see how something so beautiful was able to grow, despite the things going on around it.” Mihalick said of the piece, noting that people don’t usually buy his artwork unless they have some kind of connection, “whether it is a place that they’ve been or a place that they want to go.” 

Photographer Jason Mihalick preparing for his first exhibit at the Canyon Community Center, Springdale, Utah, Aug. 13, 2019 | Photo by Andrew Pinckney, St. George News

During a recent show, a kid told Mihalick how much he loved his picture of Multnomah Falls on the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, where the boy’s parents were married. “Stuff like that. That stuff is just huge for me.”

One of his last shots, and his most challenging to date, was taken inside a 1,000-foot-deep slot canyon on private land on the Navajo Reservation in Northern Arizona, where he said few people have set foot during modern times. 

“It’s the matter of the waiting — waiting for the light and being down there. Slot Canyons are the purgatory for the Navajo people, and for them to take us down there and tell the story and explain to us how all this stuff was formed, I had to do their culture right by taking the time,” he said, adding that he waited for hours for the light to be right and for the clouds to come in.

“I can tell a story through a photo,” he said, and if takes a little more time and patience, “then there’s a better chance I have of telling a better story. Hopefully, it brings the viewer in.”

Mihalick moved to Utah in 2017 to be a wilderness guide. He said the experience opened his eyes to the healing aspects of being in the wild. He would sit and think every night how powerful the experience was and decided he wanted to share the experience with others. His latest endeavor is to organize outdoor photography workshops. A trip to a sacred slot canyon near Page, Arizona, is scheduled for this fall.

The workshop will include people who have been shooting since before Mihalick was born and others who may have just bought their camera that week, he said. They will take photos of half of the canyon for a day, do a sunset and Milky Way shoot and take pictures of the second half of the canyon the second day. The last half-day of the workshop will be spent processing everyone’s images and, hopefully, turning them into one great picture.

“Nothing drives me more than watching these other photographers. There is no reason in the world why I wouldn’t want to share, because if I don’t, then people just find another excuse to sit on the couch.”

He’s dedicated to helping people improve their photos and said one thing people appreciate is his no “BS” assessments of their work.

“If I can be a go-to for people and help them, I’m helping myself in the long run. People often come up to say, ‘Hey man, my shot doesn’t look like yours. How can I get that?’

“I can do one-on-one workshop with you, I can do processing class with you, or Skype with you.”

His end goal is a gallery, but for now, he’s enjoying the adventure, traveling around the country and meeting people.

For anyone unsatisfied with the direction their life is headed, Mihalick suggests picking yourself up and making a change. He says that by going places, making climbs and being present, he is conquering his own demons.

“Actually realize how much freedom and control you have over your life, and the possibilities are endless. That is why I keep trying,” he said. “If I can help other people grow, chase their dreams and do what they want to do — awesome.”

For more about Mihalick, visit his website or follow his latest adventures on his Facebook page. His work is currently featured at the Canyon Community Center. The gallery is open Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Saturday, from noon until 5 p.m.

Admission to Mihalick’s reception this Sunday is free, and refreshments will be served.

Event details

  • What: Artist reception featuring Jason Mihalick.
  • When: Sunday, Aug. 18, 5-7 p.m.
  • Where: Canyon Community Center, 126 Lion Boulevard, Springdale.

Email: apinckney@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews 

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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