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People: Photographer

Josef Muench

Josef Muench was born in Schweinfurt, Bavaria on February 8, 1904. At the age of 11, Josef's parents gave him his first camera for Christmas. To buy the necessary chemicals to develop his film, Josef had to find work around his neighborhood. Although photography was his passion, he was not yet able to support himself in that profession. Consequently, he found an apprenticeship with a landscape gardener in his late teens.

In his early twenties, Josef knew that a change was required to settle his restlessness. In 1928, he followed his brother Emil to Detroit, Michigan. Despite his limited English, Josef found a job at the Ford Motor Company at the age of 24. He worked the assembly lines for two years and enrolled in English classes during night school. Joe again was not satisfied and yearned to travel.

Josef's chance for a grand adventure came in 1930. He purchased a model T with his savings and headed West. From Detroit, Josef headed North to Canada, West along the Canadian-US border, and down the Pacific coastline. By the time he reached Santa Barbara, California, his money was completely spent. Sadly, the Depression made job scarcity a real threat that Josef and the rest of the world had to overcome. Josef had to rely on his landscaping ability to sustain himself during those hard years. Yet through it all, his passion for photography never diminished.

In 1936, Josef entered Arizona for the first time. Looking back he said,

"When I first saw the desert I liked it. It was new and different. It immediately took on a meaning to me. I had heard it was barren. It isn’t. A little cactus–so delicate and beautiful, can hide from you. You have to go slowly, and look carefully."

1938 was the year that Josef met with the editor for Arizona Highways who decided to run Josef's photograph of the Rainbow Bridge National Monument. Not long after the initial run of Rainbow Bridge, Muench's name became synonymous with Arizona Highways.

After World War II, Josef Muench decided that it was time to devote his life solely to photography and travel. Throughout his career, he traveled to the Grand Canyon 200 times and made 160 visits to Monument Valley. However, his adventures were not limited to the Southwest: he visited Africa, Alaska, Asia, Canada, Europe, Hawaii, and the Rocky Mountains.

In fact, Josef's work has even made it beyond the borders of our solar system! The unmanned Voyager Expeditions, launched in 1977, included his photo of a snow-covered Sequoia redwood taken in Kings Canyon National Park. Each Voyager has a "Golden Record" on board, which contains 117 images of Earth's landscapes as well as greetings in every language.

Bruce Babbitt, former U.S. Secretary of the Interior said, "Muench is the ultimate environmentalist. By showing us the incredible natural beauty we have inherited, he inspires us to care more deeply for our world and its natural treasures."

Josef Muench died in 1998 at the age of 94, but his legacy remains.

from: Josef Muench, "My camera is my constant companion."
Arizona University - Cline Library

Yucca Whipplei -- May - 1947

Mosquito Rock - 1958, Elephant Rock - Valley of Fire, Nevada
Mosquito Rock (Elephant Rock) Valley of Fire, Nevada -- December - 1958

Titus Canyon Portal, photo by Josef Muench
Titus Canyon Portal -- July - 1944

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