To celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service, we commissioned this extraordinary portfolio by the German photographer Harf Zimmermann, who is internationally renowned for landscape and architectural images that often capture light in breathtaking ways. What better person, we thought, to show readers what it feels like to be inside America’s natural cathedrals? Zimmermann traveled from the swampy woods of Congaree, in South Carolina, to the ocher ravines of the Grand Canyon in his quest to document these sanctified places as a collective entity, also heading to northwestern Wyoming, to visit Yellowstone; eastern Utah, to see Arches; and eastern Arizona, to wander Petrified Forest National Park. “I have seen great landscapes before,” he said, “but to see places of so many different kinds in one trip—that was something new. It readjusted my view of the relationship between man (meaning me, personally) and nature.”
Zimmermann still shoots film, on a large-format camera, an approach that requires meticulous planning, lengthy contemplation, and often return visits. Each of these photos is the end result of a complex process. At Yellowstone, the photographer’s approach resulted in a brush with the authorities, who mistook his large-format camera for a camcorder, for which he didn’t have a permit. (Ironically, only a month later, the Park Service created a full-time staff position for a large-format photographer to work in the tradition of Ansel Adams.) Soon enough, Zimmermann cleared everything up and continued on his journey. “I was happy as a child in every park I visited,” he said, “and as far as I was concerned, the trip could have gone on forever.” The pictures he took along the way will remind you why our national parks are the envy of the world.