PARKS AND MONUMENTS
The National Park Service was established by Congress in 1916 to “preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.” Artists played an important role in the early development and expansion of the parks through paintings and photographs of extraordinary (mostly western) American landscapes. Relatively few people had seen these wonders first-hand until the proliferation of the automobile and paved roads into the parks.
The idea for this series began after reading Edward Abbey’s 1968 classic, Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness. He worked for two seasons in the mid-1950’s as a Park Ranger in what was then Arches National Monument. Abbey’s description of the natural beauty of this wilderness area was fascinating, but he cautioned that ‘progress’ was looming. Park Service officials were planning to upgrade Arches to accommodate more automobiles. Dirt roads would be paved. Primitive campgrounds would be modernized to include running water, electricity, and toilets that flushed. Abbey thought these were misdirected ideas.
These seemingly divergent objectives (development and preservation) create interesting photographic opportunities. Initially my interest was the relationship between man-made marks and the natural landscape, void of tourists. Eventually people started showing up in various pictures- some documenting park experiences; others lost in a moment of reverie or quiet reflection. These photographs help to link geography/geology, culture, and time.