A Utah photographer devoted to preserving dark skies establishes a star-saving foundation

(Photo illustration courtesy of Christine Kenyon) The Metate Arch, in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, shown in alignment with the Milky Way and adventure photographer Christine Kenyon's dog, Tuffy, in the foreground. This image was created by blending more than one photo taken from the same spot at separate but proximate times.

Christine Kenyon remembers the first time she photographed a nightscape. It was July 4, 2016, and it took nine months of planning to iron out every detail before she snapped the shutter.

First, she picked the perfect location: Metate Arch, in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Then, she used an app called PhotoPills to determine when the Milky Way would align over the arch in exactly the way she wanted. She researched the proper equipment and the tips and tricks of shooting photos at night. She decided she would want one of her dogs — Tuffy, not Aspen — in the photo, gazing up at the stars. And she concluded that she would have to bring dog biscuits in case of an uncooperative pup.

“My photographs are like moments in time,” Kenyon said. “It’s like I piece my whole experience together in one photograph.”

(Photo courtesy of Christine Kenyon)

Kenyon got the idea to shoot her first nightscape from perusing photos of the stars online. Yet, the Draper-based adventure photographer said she has felt a need to preserve and protect dark skies since she initially experienced the natural night sky while lying under blankets and sleeping bags with her family on a chilly night during a long-ago road trip.

With her emerging foundation, Save a Star, Kenyon said she hopes to design programs and policies that not only find ways to combat light pollution and draw awareness to the cause but that also help get people out to see the stars.

While most people think they’re living under a naturally bright night sky, they’re actually seeing what is called artificial skyglow, made up of light pollution. A 2016 study on the topic shows that more than 80% of the world live under this unnatural brightness and the Milky Way is hidden to more than a third of humanity.

As part of the Save a Star Foundation, the photographer hopes to work through schools and organize a program or contest in which students who have not seen the Milky Way before would have the opportunity to witness the natural spectacle with the help of a guide.

(Photo by Andrew Charbonneau) Christine Kenyon, adventure photographer and Save a Star Foundation executive director, stands in among her photographs, showcased at the Redman Gallery in Sugar House.

“If that’s something a child would like to do or would be interested in, I would like to facilitate it,” she said. “The idea, chiefly, is to bring awareness to these subjects. And it’s noncontroversial. Who can argue with the fact that, with proper planning and policy, we will be able to see our dark skies?”

Kenyon says she’s grown accustomed to fighting for what she believes. In the Draper area, she has already recruited Ted Maestas of Mountain State Lighting to help switch up the outdoor lighting and push back against harmful or unnecessary exterior illumination.

Maestas, who was notably the lighting designer for Salt Lake City’s 2002 Winter Olympics, said that the goal of this particular project is to create a dark sky atmosphere in the area by using LED outdoor lighting that exhibits a warm color.

Along with being Kenyon’s “lighting knowledge guy,” Maestas is the most recent member of the Save a Star Foundation board. He said he was asked to join the board in case the foundation runs into safety issues with lighting projects, and to provide his expertise.

“The biggest challenge I see is, first, education,” Maestas said, adding that he was formerly an interior and exterior lighting professor to architecture students at Brigham Young University. “It’s always been to educate people. To help them understand and say that there is a need for lighting.”

Light pollution, according to the International Dark-Sky Association, comes from more than just interior and exterior building lighting. Advertisements, commercial properties, offices, factories, streetlights and sporting venues all have an impact as well. And a good portion of outdoor lighting is rendered inefficient with overly bright, poorly targeted and improperly shielded lights that spill into the sky rather than focusing on what was intended to be illuminated.

The effects of this pollution are harmful to more than just humans. According to Tracy Aviary’s Avian Collision Survey, approximately two-thirds of migratory birds travel at night, and light pollution can draw these birds into bright cities, where many of them are unable to navigate their way out again. The survey, which is continuous and performed locally, found 103 birds representing 36 species during 2017-19 migration seasons that had collided with buildings and perished.

Kenyon, a self-described Type-A personality who engages in vigorous planning, believes she has the drive and experience to make a real impact with Save a Star. Her history of activism supports the assertion.

As a resident of Draper’s Traverse Ridge neighborhood, Kenyon (who then went by Christine McClory) led the charge to take on City Hall in eliminating what residents saw as double taxation, winning the fight in the state Supreme Court and at the ballot box.

“Only in America,” Kenyon said. ”Take action and get things done.”

Lana Mawhinney, who was part of that effort and argued the residents’ case before the justices even though she is not an attorney, is also a member of the Save a Star Foundation board.

Mawhinney’s value to the foundation is her expertise on insurance and business practices. She’s also sold on Kenyon’s ability to successfully champion a cause.

“If anyone can help save the dark skies, it’s going to be Christine,” Mawhinney said. “She has the intelligence, the ability, the passion, and she has spurred passion in others in order to help them see there is a real issue.”

Kenyon attributes her passion for adventure, the outdoors and the night skies to her father, Lowell Anson Kenyon, to whom she dedicated her recent photography showcase at the Redman Gallery in Sugar House.

Growing up, Lowell Kenyon would take the family on endless road trips and wild escapades across the country. Lowell was a photographer and his daughter learned the tricks of the trade from him. She still sometimes chooses to shoot photos with her dad’s retro “pancake” lenses.

The elder Kenyon took photographs of the night sky to preserve what it looked like then, and he also taught photography workshops to help others capture the natural world, as his daughter continues to do. But, now, Kenyon has larger plans for her images.

“Teaching people photography is great,” she said. “But I guess my legacy would be teaching people to cherish and preserve what we have. Which, to me, is an even greater mission.”