February 20, 2010

Eyes of deVore

Nicholas, hat dangling from the invisible antlers of a trophy head at Aspen’s Jerome Hotel

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.




(we did not actually fly the plane ourselves)

Here we are in the cockpit.









Race Horse

(she slept in a hay-filled stall adjoining that of the most nervous horse)

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.)

photograph © Nicholas deVore III, used by permission

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. 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.

13 responses to “Eyes of deVore”

  1. roy smith says:

    I met Nicholas in the Wooden Nickel in Crested Butte around 1969 ish, along with his friend Jonathon Wright, also from Aspen. Jonathon joined me on an epic 40 day ski journey across the Alaska Brooks Range in 1976. In 1974 we spent the night huddled together for warmth on the summit of Mt Kenya. They are both gone and we are less.
    I enjoyed Nicholas for his great spirit and playfulness; a rare gift in this so serious world.

    I will be in Crested Butte in June this summer. If you need to take a hike over the hill drop by and you can stay with us.

    570 854 4583

  2. annie fothergill says:

    One of the world’s most charismatic, precious, talented and irreplacable treasures, Nick had a joie de vrie like no one I’ve ever met. When/where I met Nick I’d really have to think but I studied at the Center of the Eye in Aspen in the early 70s and w/NGS staff so just around, I guess. Maybe through Jonathan and Geri Wright Wright, who is still a dear friend, and/or flyfishing. Nick re-surfaced one day in the late 70s while I was swimming at the Glenwood Hot Springs. I looked up and saw a guy sitting on the edge of the pool with that big SEG and I almost drowned laughing — he just made you laugh without doing anything. Somehow the discussion rolled to my TV that was annoying me because it had developed a split picture. The horses legs appeared on the top of the screen and the body ran underneath it. Of course that was hilarious and Nick admitted that he wanted the TV. When I asked what he wanted to do with it, he simply said “I’ll rent a motel room and shoot holes into it!” No one else ever offered a solution like that about my TVs. We just call Comcast. What an amazing soul he was who graced our lives.
    Annie Fothergill

  3. Larry Elkins says:

    Ted, Nick did not kill himself in Jerome. It was in my home town of Bisbee AZ. I knew Nick during the last years of his life, and considered him a friend. Nicholas deVore III was ,for all his eccentricities, and they were many, a one of a kind, hugely talented and charismatic human being. I could relate tale after tale about Nick’s ‘Bisbee’ Period. The most infamous was the SUSHI DOG episode. Nick entered an artpiece in a juried show at Subway Gallery, a co-op I was involved in at the time. Although Nick won first prize, the piece, consisting of an oriental table setting featuring a dead puppy as the main course, set off a national media backlash that scandalized the little town of Bisbee. It was a few moths later that I really got to know Nick well. One of my fondest memories of Nick was spending a beautiful summer day with him and his mistress at the time, a woman known as the Brazilian, who I had hired as a model for a portfolio of elegant nude studies to be shot at a friend’s European style villa. While Nick did not shoot a single frame of film that day, his comments as I shot the nude studies, was comparable to a one on one photo workshop with this master photographer. During the time I knew him, Nick, who had shot only film during his career, exhibited a great curiosity concerning digital photography and we spent hours together discussing the topic. I miss Nick greatly. He could be a real pain in the butt sometimes, yet he was a loyal friend and a great talent. Larry Elkins Elkinsphotos Photography

  4. Liz Wright says:

    I was deepely saddened to hear of Nicholas’ death and the manner in which it happened. I met Nick in WDC when he was doing work with The Geographic through a friend Vic Boswell. I will always remeber his smile.
    I will go to Aspen to see the Galerie Devore and I also hope someone dear to him writes a biography.

  5. Melanie DeBo says:

    What a great photo of Nick…. my dear excentric bird of the Wild…… and it was Bizbee Az that was the location of his transformation from flesh to ether.
    Cheers MDB

  6. Mark Manger says:

    I interned briefly for Nick in ’90-’91 at Photographers/Aspen. When I first walked into the office, he looked me over and said, “Normally I require my interns have a larger chest than yours” (meaning I’m not female) “but I guess you’ll have to do.” As a young, aspiring photographer, whose job it was to catalog images, it was an amazing education to be immersed in his work (and the work of the other partners: David Hiser, Paul Cheseley, Chris Ranier and the late Jonathan Wright).
    One of the thickest image files in that place was of Hunter S. Thompson–it looked like those guys had fun. His life looked pretty excellent to me in my early 20’s. I asked him once about his work. I was surprised when he said that if he could do it over again, he would open a hat-making shop instead.
    There was a great shot of him in the office that I haven’t seen in 20 years; it’s a b&w taken in France(?) where he’s walking tight-rope style across the sharp peak of a high metal roof in hard-soled dress shoes with a camera in hand. Crazy and brilliant. A perfect portrait of the guy.

  7. Ixchel says:

    Nicholas just crossed my mind from fond and hilarious memories spent living with him at his Bisbee, Arizona home and art gallery in 1998 and again on a visit in 2000. Anyone who knew this charismatic, passionate, eccentric, creative and wild man is sure to have many great stories too.

  8. robert puglia says:

    i met nick in bisbee, autumn of ’91. upon our introduction, i mentioned that i had traveled to alamos, sonora with his mother sheila a few years before. his face darkened unto a contorted cringe of rage and i thought he might strike me. i managed to distract him by bumming a delicado (curiously named mexican cigarette) and the clouds parted. he was amiable enough, then, perhaps because i would want to smoke such an indelicate bit of tobacco.
    he reminded of a line from the movie “providence” (alan resnais, 1977):
    are you raising all this hell for something to write about?

  9. Andreas Baier says:

    A couple of days ago I wanted to find out how Nicholas is doing. Well, all that is left is remembering him:

  10. ted breault says:

    im trying to get in contact with Nicholas devor the 4th. I was very good friend of nicks father here in Bisbee,az. nicks father had purchased a sculpter of mine and after his passing I don’t know what happened to my piece of art. his son, nick the 4th may have some information on where it may be. I so hope that I may get in touch with him soon. thankyou, ted breault.

  11. Oliviana says:

    Hi! My name is Oliviana Bedini, and I’m Nicholas daughter, with Maria Izabel. I was searching about my father and I like to read your post! Can you tell me more about Nicholas? My e-mail is: [email protected]
    Thanks for the attention!

  12. Julie Brown says:

    We were good friends during Aspen High School. For his birthday I gave him a Minolta already with a 50 and a telephoto lenses. Then he and Paul Chesley dissapeared into a dark room for weeks at a time. They also had photography at Colorado Mountain College. Nick at that time continued pursuing his new career all the way to the National Geographic. I was very saddened to hear of his death, I had always hoped one day we would meet up and reminisce about those crazy high school days and treks and four wheeling. He is missed.

  13. Ford Jones says:

    Today, as I was going through one of those accretion boxes we all amass over the years..business cards, letters, photos, bits of paper that have addresses on them that you meant to put into an address book (back when they were actually books) The name Nicholas Devore was on one of them. With his address. and his telephone number. I had looked him up sometime in the late 90’s with the goal of contacting him. Why?
    My father, a freelance writer for many years after working at A.P. had landed a gig as a staff writer for National Geographic books. He loved it. And he worked with Nick on a number of book projects. His favorite was the time spent out in Montana, for a book “Cowboys” where Nick was the photographer. I do believe he considered it the apogee of his life – not as a writer, but as a human. His time spent with Nick, and the Urich family that owned the ranch was a touchstone that he would return to again and again as his life slowly unwound out of his control. Shortly after my father passed away in 1995, I wrote Nick’s contact info on a single, full sheet of paper. It is the piece of paper I hold today. Though I thought many times over the years of contacting Nick to let him know how much my father appreciated him, I just did not know how to approach it. My fathers slow roll to death was self-inflicted in many ways – and I suppose how to handle possibility in a conversation with Nick was something I struggled with.
    So, to bring full circle, I looked Nick up today, in hopes that I could clear the decks, and let him know how much he meant to my father. It was not to be. However, there was consolation in learning of his passing. Tributes and references to Nick brought his life into focus for me – I had only known him as a friend of my father.
    And as though a bit of the universe was in synch, I ran across your tribute to Nick. I have read many of your books, knew that you had spent a lot of time in Aspen as a result, so was touched to know that you knew Nick as well. Your accounts of him could have been my father telling them, the love shining through. It was good to have him back even for a short time. Thank you.