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Photography student creates lasting portraits of endangered languages

Photography major and Alabamian Jordan Layton was originally recruited to come to BYU to play soccer. Growing up, Layton never felt he was talented in art or music. However, four years ago when introduced to a friend’s camera Layton discovered photography and was hooked.

After being admitted to the program, Layton went on a class trip to Los Angeles where the students met with commercial photographers and visited their studios. This experience solidified Layton’s decision to pursue commercial photography as a career. Layton sets himself apart with the sensitivity and attention to detail he brings to every project. Recently Layton and his professor Paul Adams, the Head of BYU Photography, embarked on a project they later named “Vanishing Voices.” While surfing the web, Layton came across a website illustrating endangered languages around the world including critically endangered languages with only one to three speakers left. “I was amazed at how many endangered languages there were even within our own country,” Layton said. “Looking into these tribes and people it really amazed me how hard they are fighting to hold onto their cultures and their languages that will ultimately die off soon.” Layton decided to document these individuals with a process called wet plate collodion tintype. This is an intensive process that was popularized in the 1850s and 60s around the time of the Civil War. One picture takes approximately an hour and a half to set up and another hour and a half to break down. “The wet plate collodion process is one of the most archival processes ever invented, so the plate could be around much longer than these languages and cultures will be,” Layton said. To create the 20-inch by 24-inch tintypes, Layton had to use a camera of that size. Layton and Adams had so much equipment they had to rent a trailer to take to California where Layton had located a few people for their visit through a number of cold calls. “Vanishing Voices” was displayed at the Harris Fine Arts Center at BYU, but Layton will continuing working on the project after graduation. Following his graduation this month, Layton and his wife Miriam are moving to New York City where Miriam will begin a new job and Layton will complete an internship with professional fashion photographer John Moe.