Tom Till knows how to keep a secret.
The Moab photographer and gallery owner found out one year ago that the U.S. Postal Service planned to issue a new “Forever stamp” that features his iconic shot of Delicate Arch at sunset. But he kept his lips tightly sealed until early this week, when the agency formally announced that the stamps will go on sale later this spring.
On Tuesday, April 5, Till could finally let loose with the news, and stamp collectors and others quickly caught on to the announcement. Within a matter of hours, his official Facebook page logged 50,000 hits, and Till expected recent page views to reach 100,000 by the time he headed home from work the following day.
The Delicate Arch stamp is one of 16 new stamps that commemorate the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary. Stamp collectors who attend the once-in-a-decade World Stamp Show in New York City in late May and early June will be among the first to see them up close; official stamp dedication ceremonies will follow at or near each park.
Some of his fans, like Annette Minor Gabriella, said they look forward to seeing the soon-to-be-famous image the next time they visit Tom Till Gallery at 61 N. Main St.
“I hope this one is blown up on your wall,” she said. “It’s absolutely incredible. I want it on (my) wall!”
However, anyone who rushes down immediately to Till’s gallery to get their hands on any reproductions might walk away disappointed.
“We actually haven’t had it at the gallery,” Till said, drily. “We probably will now.”
National Park Service Southeast Utah Group Superintendent Kate Cannon said that she and her co-workers feel honored by the postal service’s decision to once again immortalize Arches National Park’s most famous landmark.
“With over 400 national parks in the national park system, we are thrilled to be one of the 16 parks to represent the diversity of (America’s national parks),” Cannon said.
Till can’t say offhand when exactly he took the shot. But he’s sure that it dates back to some time in the 1990s, when neither the Wolfe Ranch parking area nor the Delicate Arch trail were congested with the sheer numbers of visitors they see today.
“It was a little easier to find a parking spot then,” he said. “It was a little easier to shoot Delicate Arch without people.”
These days, Till works with digital cameras, although he remembers that he took the shot using distinctly 20th century technology.
“It was one of those big cameras with bellows,” he said.
While they originally had a different image in mind, the stamp’s designers ultimately settled on a photo that captures Delicate Arch from a different angle than many people are used to seeing. Instead of placing the snow-capped La Sal Mountains in the backdrop, the lens is turned toward the park’s Garden of Eden at sunset.
National Park Service Southeast Utah Group spokesperson Shannan Marcak said that visitors can generally expect to find optimal conditions for photography if they arrive later in the day.
“I think the key is sunset,” she said.
Aside from often being the most beautiful times of day at the park, Marcak noted that both sunset and sunrise can be quieter and more reflective times for Arches’ visitors.
“Maybe this will inspire some visitors to change their plans,” she said.
The Delicate Arch stamp marks Till’s fourth collaboration with the U.S. Postal Service. His photos have previously appeared on stamps that honor Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon national parks, and the postal service also hired a painter to reproduce an exact copy of a wildflower he photographed.
His working relationship with the agency has been going on for about 20 years, and Till never knows when the next collaboration might begin.
“It’s kind of a case of, ‘Don’t call us. We’ll call you,’” he said.
Although he collected stamps as a boy, Till said he never could have imagined that any of his photos would ever appear on one. It turned out, though, that his stamp-collecting days coincided with his discovery of the West through photos.
As a child in Iowa, he was entranced by copies of Arizona Highways magazine, and the first shot of Delicate Arch that he laid eyes on made a lasting impression on him.
“I’ve had an obsession with this area since I was a kid,” he said.
He bugged his parents to bring him out West, and once they finally made it to Moab, his determination to live here only grew.
“I just wanted to come out here and figure out a way to make a living so I could explore,” he said. “That was my goal in life.”
After years of follow-up visits to the Moab area, he finally settled here in 1974, and by 1977, the English major in college had become a “serious photographer,” in his words.
For several years, he taught at Grand County High School, which allowed him to go on extended trips and take photos of the region’s iconic landscapes. In the 1980s, he finally turned his passion into a full-time career, drawing in fans like Jan Reed and Scott Wynn.
“You are the master of the arch … or at least this image is the master of all arch images,” Reed told him.
“Great that the (postal service) can recognize real beauty,” Wynn said. “So many stamps out there now are frivolous.”
Tom Till photo chosen to commemorate park service centennial
For more information about Till’s work, go to tomtillphotography.com, or visit his official Facebook page at facebook.com/Tom-Till-Photography-170762047719/.