By Lynette Carrington / Photos by Claudia Johnstone
The artistic endeavors of Jon Linton have taken interesting twists and turns in the past 20 years. From a career with Ralph Lauren to helping those on our Valley’s streets, he has now carved out perhaps the most unique of humanitarian efforts.
Linton is originally from Chicago and became interested in photography when his mother purchased a Minolta analog camera.
“This was in the 1970s,” Linton recalls. “I remember it was a nice camera and I probably shouldn’t haven’t have been futzing around with it. I’d often sneak it out of the house and use up all her film.”
After graduating from Eastern Illinois University, he took a job as a marketing director with Ralph Lauren.
“Ralph wanted to create apparel for golfers that looked more interesting than what was available,” Linton explains. “He put together a small team of people he felt was capable of helping him with that.”
Linton grew up playing golf and was flattered to have been chosen for a job he still considers one of his great accomplishments. While working with Ralph Lauren, Linton moved to the Valley in 1989. In the mid-to-late 90s, he grew tired of traveling, transitioned to the art business and founded art magazine, ArtBook of the New West.
“I picked photography up as an instrument strictly to create, as I was immersed in the arts for such a long time,” Linton says.
Although Linton loves landscape and black-and-white photography, a few years later he was compelled to begin a new mission, inspired by a friend who became homeless and ultimately lost his life.
Linton had thought of doing something in honor of his friend, but hadn’t acted on it until he found himself in a friend’s art studio in New Mexico. That friend pushed Linton to pursue a photographic homage.
“He said, ‘Put a camera in your car and go take some pictures!’” Linton recalls.
The first photograph Linton took that night was a Vietnam vet panhandling. He approached the vet in a dignified way and introduced himself.
“I told him I was working on a project for people in need and I didn’t want to use the word homeless,” Linton explains. “I told him I wanted to give people on the street a voice.”
When Linton introduced himself, he asked the man’s name and the vet began to weep, saying it had been a long time since anyone had asked him his name.
“I started taking photographs of people living on the street in an effort to pay honor and provide remembrance to a friend who lost his life, while giving a voice to those that are voiceless,” he explains.
The encounter led Linton to capture more photographs, eventually becoming the I Have a Name exhibition and movement that serves as an advocacy. The photo exhibition has traveled around the Western U.S. and its next stop will be at the Arizona Historical Society for a six-month exhibit beginning November 2018.
“This is an exhibition that creates awareness,” Linton adds.
The I Have a Name project also collaborated with artists Wayne Rainey and Brian Boner to create a powerful mural on the monOrchid Building on Roosevelt Street in the Phoenix arts district.
A Facebook page helps to push awareness through social networking.
“By doing outreach on the street as an organic outflow of the photographic exhibition and exhibition travel to a few places, the social media platform now has the largest and most engaged audience that provides a voice for the homeless, no matter the organization,” Linton says.
In the hope that people would do more than like and share on social media, Linton designed a T-shirt that says “#LetsBeBetterHumans.” He made 50 of those shirts and sold them to help provide Christmas meals to the veterans on the streets in Phoenix through nonprofit MANA House.
The Southwest Institute of Healing Arts has provided the project with a bus that serves those on the street. The bus carries the “Let’s Be Better Humans” slogan that is a simple, but profound statement meant to inspire, motivate and produce change. It serves those living on the streets by providing supplies and serves as an outreach. The vehicle also makes appearances at social activism activities like the Pride Parade, the Women’s March, Phoenix March for Our Lives rally and the Red for Ed movement.
“We hope that the bus brings people together with the ‘Let’s Be Better Humans’ message,” explains Linton. “That’s the message of hope.”
As a way to continue to express his creativity and escape briefly from heavier subjects, Linton indulges in breathtaking landscape photography, particularly in the Southwest.
“Photography on the street is very painful,” he finishes. “But, perhaps these endeavors will change the public’s perception in a small and humble way.”
For more information, visit www.jonlintonphotography.com.