He looks like a character from one of Edward Abbey’s Western cult novels – a gray-haired fellow wearing an old cowboy hat, jeans and boots. James (Jim) Tallon is a wildlife photography and writer, though he doesn’t like the term “photojournalist.” He is a camper at heart, a photographer through his eyes and a writer in his mind.
“If it had to be nailed down, I’m just a photojournalist, but I don’t like the word.”
Tallon has published over 6,200 photos and 855 stories about his adventures in wildlife, he said. His business card also brags of his “10,000 miles of ballroom dancing.”
Tallon began shooting animals, with a camera, when his mother turned a closet into a dark room, he said. Shortly after, he found Arizona when he was 17 and fell in love with the desert.
“I ran out of money in Prescott, and then hitchhiked to Flagstaff,” he said.
In 1960, Tallon moved to the Valley and later Ahwatukee Foothills, where he lives with his wife today, and still treks South Mountain, a local hiking hot spot. Now, though, he carries a digital camera instead of his 35mm Canon.
Tallon, 84, has spent a lifetime watching photography shift into the form of digital art it is today.
“I used to go in there (working for Arizona Highways magazine) with 35mm cameras. I broke the barrier,” he said.
“First story I did was a motorcycle story, and I used a cheap drugstore camera,” he said. “I’ve owned a lot of motorcycles. I gave up on Harleys, the one I have now is a Kawaski that looks like a Triumph, with an antique look.”
Tallon is known for his wildlife photography published in many wildlife magazines, including Arizona Highways, an internationally-distributed outdoor magazine featuring Arizona’s nature.
“There was a time when I would see something and know how many millimeters to shoot it with and who was going to buy it,” Tallon said.
His eye for nature and nostalgic love for the outdoors has taken him across the United States and over many countries’ borders.
“I had a little camper, and I had a little motor home,” Tallon said. “It’s gotten me to Australia, Alaska three times, and Costa Rica twice.”
Australia, in particular, was one of Tallon’s favorite locations, he said.
“The fishing was incredible, I saw a whale shark that came up right to the shore,” he said. “I expected to see kangaroos everywhere, but they weren’t. I had to go to the zoo.”
While working in Arizona for travel publications, Tallon took jobs working for the Park Service.
“I was a guide at the Grand Canyon for eight years. I was the rim guide,” he said. “I love the Park Service.”
“My daughter is a ranger at Petrified Forest,” Tallon said. “She’s 34 or 35 now. She’s got four kids and she’s out on the trails all the time.”
Peering through his glasses, Tallon still laughs at coyotes and hummingbirds caught in his film as he scrolls through a slideshow of his work. A sense of disappointment comes through in his voice, as he talked about the large number of dying travel publications and lack of work. He partly blames the digital age.
“Digital ruined me,” Tallon said. “It has cheapened photography.”
Digital photography has made it much easier for anyone to become a photographer, he said.
“Now I don’t even set the exposure; I just let the camera do it,” Tallon said. “Everything is automatic.”
With photography and travel magazines falling by the number, Tallon stays busy writing his own newsletter, interviewing himself in a semi-serious form, praising his work and joking about contemporary publications.
Though widely published, Tallon still keeps some of his favorite Arizona camping spots a secret. Outdoor enthusiasts can still retrace some of Tallon’s camping experience by picking up his book, 144 Campgrounds, published by Arizona Highways.
Tallon remains to be a legendary photographer and writer, who no one knows about, according to him. A recent heart attack slowed him down, but it hasn’t stopped him from filming wildlife.
“I still shoot every day,” he said.
Mark Crudup is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. He is a senior at Arizona State University.