When Sand Canyon resident Ted Dayton first attended college, he realized he didn’t have a clue about what to study, or what he wanted to do with his life.
He dropped out and returned home to the San Fernando Valley.
“As soon as I got to college, I sensed that I shouldn’t be there,” Dayton said. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I hated wasting the time and wasting my dad’s money. I came home to think about it a little while.”
Dayton’s father suggested his son participate in a vocational guidance testing program through the University of California, Los Angeles.
“I went through about 25 hours of all kinds of testing,” Dayton said. After he completed the personality, aptitude, preference and other tests, including the “square-peg, round-hole” test, Dayton received the results.
Photography was among the occupations suggested.
“My eyes got big when I saw photography on the list of suggested professions,” said Dayton
His father immediately went upstairs and retrieved the camera he had used for decades to record family vacations.
“He wanted to see my reaction when I looked through the camera,” Dayton said. It was an immediate love affair between Dayton and the camera.
After he took a few photography classes at a small school in North Hollywood, Dayton realized he liked the artistic side of photography and contacted the prestigious Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara.
“I was put on a waiting list, which was very lengthy,” Dayton said. “I think it was a year-long list, but I got in early because I called them up and pestered them.” At the age of 19 Dayton had found his life’s passion and went off to Santa Barbara.
A working professional
Dayton was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. but his family moved to Southern California shortly after he was born. He grew up in Sherman Oaks and graduated from Van Nuys High School.
After his graduation from Brooks in 1976, Dayton moved to Dallas, Texas, where he worked for eight years. After returning to Southern California, he was the West Coast staff photographer from 1989 to 1995 for Fairchild Publications, a New York publishing company.
The company published mostly fashion trade magazines, like “W” and “Women’s Wear Daily.”
“I provided all the photos for their West Los Angeles office,” Dayton said. “Among their publications were ‘Children’s Wear Daily,’ that was fun.” Other magazines included “Footwear News” and a magazine devoted to the golf pro-shop industry.
“I shot anything and everything,” Dayton said. “I joke that I’ve shot everything except underwater. I’ve shot from up in the air, just about everywhere as a commercial photographer. I was a generalist.”
Dayton retired a few years ago, but is still shooting photos. “I always have personal projects in the works,” he said.
Dayton said, like many businesses in the digital age, the photography business isn’t the same. “Business has changed, people don’t want to pay for professional photography,” he said. The advent of digital photography and cell phone cameras has fundamentally changed the world, especially for portrait and commercial photographers, Dayton said.
“When people discovered that someone in the office could take decent enough photos everything changed,” he said. “I don’t think people get the quality of work they can get from a professional photographer, but people decided it was good enough.”
Over the course of five months Dayton has produced nearly 100 images of photos of the Santa Clarita Valley taken from a unique perspective. “In this project I went places where I’m pretty sure no one has taken serious photos, maybe snapshots, but not at the level of quality that I’ve done,” he said.
Dayton’s photos are of various housing tracts in the SCV, but taken from above.
“I went as far east as the canyon one ridge east of Shadow Pines, using Mammoth Lane to go north to where I took a picture facing east to the homes on a ridge along Archer Lane, which, according to a map, is the eastern-most street in SCV proper,” he said. “The farthest west I went was to the north edge of Castaic, where The Old Road ends.”
His other “Rooftops” images include an image of a new development south of the Antelope Valley Freeway and north of Placerita Canyon, at what is now the southeastern endpoint of Golden Valley Road.
“I call this area ‘The Racetrack,’ for obvious reasons,” he said. He also has a colorful image of “a big bowl of a development” partly encircled by Plum Canyon Road and an area called Canyon Crest, north of Whites Canyon Road, among many others.
Dayton said to create one image he needed to shoot dozens of photos. He would hike to a location above the housing tract, carrying a heavy backpack of equipment, to get his shots. Then he used a computer and Photoshop to create the finished work of art.
“The results are super sharp and, in some cases, you can see the texture of the stucco in the houses from 500 yards away,” he said. After crafting several of the images he realized his art was telling a bigger story.
“There is a lot to be gleaned from these photos about California land use and what we’re willing to put up with. It speaks to fire issues and water-use issues,” he said. “You see how ridges are flattened and canyons filled in so we can use it for building homes. I don’t mean this to be a political statement. I set out to make art, just to make something beautiful and interesting … then I begin to see other stories and other people see things that I hadn’t thought of.”
“I am an artist at heart, a creative person at heart and I have a need to use this craft of photography to create images that are different in some way,” he said. “I also want my work to be interesting to look at.”
Dayton said he wants to stay sharp “with my craft.”
“I just want to keep getting better. It’s a creative outlet I can do all my life.
I just love looking at beautiful unique images I hope are interesting to other people,” he said.
Dayton has a photo on display, from his “Rooftops” collection, at the Santa Paula Art Museum on 10th Street in Santa Paula. It will be on display through Sept. 15.
The show is called “Face of California.” Dayton’s work, “Kaleidoscopic,” measures about 24 inches x 48 inches, and was made from 32 individual camera frames. It is printed on a sheet of metal with a white base, presented in a simple, black float frame.
‘The Jilted Brides of Heritage Valley’
The Fillmore area produced a series of photos of veiled orange trees that Dayton calls “The Jilted Brides of Heritage Valley.”
“I have always thought of these trees as ladies, and the pictures as portraits,” he said.
At certain times of the year, commercial orange trees in the Fillmore area and throughout California are swathed in plastic netting to keep bees from pollinating the trees. Dayton said the practice creates seedless fruit.
“The first time I saw this grove I thought they were being quarantined,” he said. “That was before I found out about production of seedless fruit.” Dayton returned to the same grove several times, looking for just the right lighting and weather.
“I was looking for a certain kind of rainy, cloudy weather,” he said. “I wanted to evoke a gloomy image that a bright sunny day wouldn’t give me. When I discovered how beautiful these places were in cloudy weather, I would go back to shoot the trees as many times as I could.” Dayton said he is happy he made the effort.
“My primary orange grove was leveled last year,” he said. “It was my own private forest and they cut down all the trees and planted something else. My own private orange grove is gone.”
In October, Dayton will have a month-long solo exhibition, “Three Projects: Small, Medium & Large.”
Small refers to “Old Friends” … pictures of old cameras.
“One large print is a montage with about 85 images, meant to be a whimsical piece that draws the viewer close to see the scratches and damage on the surface,” Dayton said.
Medium refers to “The Jilted Brides of Heritage Valley” and Large will feature his “Rooftops” work, large vistas looking down into housing developments.
The show will be at The Main, on Main Street in downtown Newhall. It opens Oct. 17 in conjunction with the Senses block party event.
The Santa Paula Museum is located at 117 N 10th St., Santa Paula.