Salt Lake City: A colorful city in Black and White

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Most people think of Salt Lake City, Utah as the home of the Mormon religion, which it is, but I tend to think about Salt Lake City as a place where I almost moved to when I went to work for Utah-based Morton Thiokol, the manufacturer of the ill-fated Space Shuttle o-rings. The Thiokol Chemical Company, who later merged with Morton Salt Company, was founded in 1929. Its initial business was a range of synthetic rubber and polymer sealants of which it was a major supplier of liquid polymer sealants during World War II. When scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory discovered that Thiokol’s polymers made ideal binders for solid rocket fuels, Thiokol moved into the new field setting up operations in Brigham City about 60 miles north of Salt Lake City (SLC). After the shuttle disaster in 1986, the company underwent numerous name and ownership changes.

Of course, this post is not about Morton Thiokol but rather how it became a big part of my life and where I found myself many years later taking photographs after attending a wedding in SLC. Coming back to this area after 40-plus years refreshed many memories, including how beautiful SLC is and the pristine nature of the surrounding area. Although the area has grown considerably during the years that I had been away, it still retained that special flavor that drew me to seek employment with Morton Thiokol in the first place. 

While on this albeit too brief visit, I decided that although SLC and the surrounding Great Salt Lake and the magnificent Wasatch Mountain range were quite colorful, I would do a series of photographs strictly in black and white. This is not to say that I shot these images using black and white film or by having my digital camera settings on black and white. No, in fact, these were all shot in vivid color, then converted to black and white using various photography software technologies.


Although some would argue, I find that SLC is quite clean and organized. It feels safe to walk about and to engage in street photography. The buildings in the city offer many interesting lines and textures and the overall city vibe is good.

Despite the obvious fact that the Mormon Temple is the central focal point of many activities associated with SLC, it still provides many unique photographic opportunities. The temple is located in downtown SLC, and encompasses 5 city blocks of historic sites. It has been said that Temple Square is the Mormon religions equivalent to the Catholic’s Vatican.  

Weather in SLC and Utah in general is always difficult to predict. Winters can be brutal and last many more months than one would expect, hence the reason that I left Morton Thiokol after enduring a cold winter that lasted from early October until nearly the end of May the next year. 

The mountains surrounding SLC make for excellent images with their contrasting peaks covered in snow and the ever changing, divergent colors of foliage during the four distinct seasons.   

When the days become warmer, which sometimes happens rather quickly, the snow melt can cause the lakes, rivers and streams to fill with rushing water. Avalanches can happen even in late April and as with any photogenic location, care must be taken.

Not too far distant from the location of the Morton Thiokol rocket motor manufacturing and test facility is the site where the Golden Spike was driven on May 10, 1869, at Promontory Point, when the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific railroads joined. In downtown SLC two historic train stations still remain, however, they are not in the best overall condition after years of neglect. Only the neon sign on the Union Pacific station is still illuminated at night at the time of this writing.

Night photography can be fun despite being a challenge. But it does have its benefits such as this rather fancy taco stand. No reason not to stop for a chow break while out and about taking photos.

In case of thirst, there are many pubs and breweries that one will pass during an evening of night photography. 

During a photographic outing, one never knows what opportunity can be found to take an interesting image. Here is shown an image taken at a wedding that was held at the spectacular Tracy Aviary in Liberty Park.

The nearly 9-acre Tracy Aviary at Liberty Park was first opened to the public on July 2, 1938. Today it is filled with numerous birds, both common and exotic. It is a great place to spend a day and enjoy practicing your bird photography skills.

Tracy Aviary is the home of the famous 64-year-old Andean Condor, who is ironically named Andy N. Condor. Although he once took daily walks with his caretaker, his age now dictates a slower lifestyle. His enclosure is large and he seems to enjoy being photographed.

In the Abravanel Hall, home of the Utah symphony, stands a spectacular Dale Chihuly blown glass masterpiece. The Washington state based artist created this glass sculpture for the 2002 Olympics, naming it the Olympic Tower 2002. When the Olympics games were over, the SLC community raised enough funds to purchase the piece where it remains today.

Above, a creative manhole cover commemorating the 2002 Olympic winter games that were held in SLC and the surrounding area.

The LDS does not have exclusive rights to religion here in SLC as there are many interesting churches throughout the city. In fact, the cover photo of this blogpost was taken inside the Cathedral of the Madeleine, a Catholic church with spectacular architecture as is the one above just down the street.

The gargoyle near the entrance of the First Presbyterian Church of Salt Lake City, built in 1903 to 1905, greets visitors.

The colorful stained glass windows in the Cathedral of the Madeleine offer a different perspective when photographed in black and white. Catching the sunlight bathing the windows just right is not always an option.

“Oh give me a home” may have been inspired by the wildlife in the Great Salt Lake basin. Above, a pronghorn antelope enjoys a warm afternoon galloping among the lush grasses and wildflowers. Named for these wonderful creatures, the Antelope Island State Park offers many photographic opportunities.

A short drive north of SLC takes you to Antelope Island State Park where many buffalo roam. These are a unique species native to this place due to their isolation by the surrounding Great Salt Lake.

Back in SLC for an afternoon of sightseeing and photography where you never know what you will find. Above is the monument to the state bird of Utah, the California Gull. The gull was unanimously chosen as the state bird due to the fact that these gulls saved the people of Utah by eating up hordes of crickets which were destroying the crops in 1848.

A pleasant song from a House Sparrow fills the air as you embark on your SLC photo journey. With the warm air many birds come out to enjoy the sunshine and they offer many photographic opportunities.

The warmer weather also brings out the spidermen who partake in Spring window cleaning and offer the photographer a batch of butterflies in your stomach!

I have always enjoyed lines and patterns in simple objects that I photograph. I still do not know what purpose these grates on the side of a building are used for.

Interesting images can be found most anywhere in SLC. The above is homage to the Ute tribe of Native Americans that are said to be the oldest residents inhabiting the mountains and vast areas of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Eastern Nevada, Northern New Mexico and Arizona. 

Above, a portion of a Japanese kimono that was on display during the annual Japanese festival, Nihon Matsuri, which is held in an area that was once known as Japantown in SLC. The kimono can trace its humble beginnings to the Heian Period back a thousand years but sadly Japantown was obliterated in the 1960s to make room for the Salt Palace Convention Center and arena where the Utah Jazz basketball team plays. 

Art installations and exhibits can found throughout the city as city leaders understand that art reflects the history, culture, and creativity of SLC. Above is an installation that reflects the contradictions of life.

Street art can be found everywhere in the city and affords an alternative to the “tag” art that negatively affects many inner cities. 

Street photography of people is a difficult portion of photography to many, both from a photographer and a subject point of view. For me it has always been a rather delicate subject and one that I have yet to feel comfortable with, yet it makes for some very interesting and memorable images.

When it comes to adding “drops in your bucket of life lists” visiting great places like Salt Lake City and taking photographs as keepsakes of your adventure will certainly add more drops in that bucket.

All photographs are the copyright of Jim Jackson Photography. Please contact me with any questions, comments, or for authorization to use photos, or for signed, high-resolution prints.

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