Eyes of deVore
One of my favorite photographs of a road is by Nicholas deVore III. Nicholas was one of those rare people of approximately my age or older who grew up in Aspen, Colorado, instead of immigrating there. That’s where I met him, when I was researching my book Whiteout. Nicholas was extraordinarily smart, creative, funny, libidinous, and alarming. President of his class at Aspen High, he spent many years as a photographer for National Geographic, Fortune, Life, and Geo.
He brought his wife and their son and daughter along in a red van on one Geographic assignment through New England. They stopped in at my mother-in-law’s antique-filled country house in New Hampshire, where his toddler son, Nicky, promptly started swinging a very old toy elephant in the air by its tail. The tail soon separated from the elephant, spewing ancient sawdust around the room. Instead of being embarrassed (I never saw him embarrassed), Nicholas laughed and laughed. “Son,” he tried to say with a grave tone, “how many times have I told you? Never swing an elephant by its tail.” Moments later, he complimented Margot, then my girlfriend, now my wife, on her “nice, round bottom.”
Nicholas and I traveled together on a couple of memorable assignments. One was a journey from Toronto to Hawaii to Australia aboard a 747 cargo jet full of thoroughbred racehorses. Here we are in the cockpit:
And here I am talking to a wrangler with her charges:
We were also roommates on a trip to southern India. The occasion was a press tour organized by a company that hoped to promote mountain biking adventure tours; we rode from Mangalore to Bangalore with other writers and photographers. Nicholas liked to keep the bathtub full (so our room would stay humid) and the toilet seat down (I don’t know why). In the evenings he donned cowboy hat and boots; one night in the hotel, after a dinner with a lot to drink, he removed a pointy-toed boot and hurled it at me across the room. It missed my head by about six inches, the closest I came to injury in India. We both thought it was funny, and I’m not sure I can explain that, either.
Riding bikes one morning in Karnataka state, we had to dodge not only all the people who used the road for walking but also giant, Tarzan-style vines dangling over the shoulder from towering trees that lined the road. I was close behind Nicholas when the nearness of one vine became, apparently, irresistible: I saw him stand up on his pedals, grab the vine with both hands, and then hold on tight as he committed to this spectacular whim, his bicycle clattering away into the weeds at road’s edge. All human traffic stopped and a hundred eyes were on him as Nicholas’ momentum carried him on a great arc across the shoulder and then back across the road, and back and forth, until he dropped off and landed on his butt, delighted.
(According to this article on Wikipedia, “In 1972 DeVore caught the attention of Robert Gilka, the legendary photo director of National Geographic, with an amateur portfolio shot in the Galápagos Islands. Nicholas leapt from an Aspen chair lift to retrieve the editor’s dropped camera, and landed a career start as the Geographic’s youngest contributor.”)
(As I understand it, the magazine began using him less following an incident in which he shot a pistol through the ceiling at a fancy party that he was photographing while on assignment.)
I have never met anyone like Nicholas. His presence was quite kinetic, and so maybe it’s not surprising that he seemed to understand intuitively that roads, though they sit still, are about motion. You can see how he captured that in this favorite photo of mine, below. I’m afraid there won’t be more: Nicholas shot and killed himself in Jerome, Arizona, in 2003. There’s a rumor that someone is writing his biography. I hope they finish soon. I’d like to read it.