Over the last century, the National Park Service’s millions of acres of canyons, forests, mountains, deserts, rivers, and lakes have inspired philosophers, writers, naturalists, and artists to create tributes. The painter Thomas Moran, whose work The Three Tetons hangs in the White House, produced many canvases devoted to the parks’ majestic allure. (Mount Moran, in Grand Teton National Park, is named for him.) The author John Muir, cofounder of the Sierra Club, wrote extensively on his relationship to wilderness, in particular the Yosemite Valley. (Muir Woods National Monument is named for him.)
But it is perhaps through photography that the parks have been best memorialized. Since the 19th century, amateur and professional photographers have contributed greatly to the parks’ legacy, and the forthcoming book Picturing America’s National Parks (Aperture/George Eastman Museum, $50) is proof of this. This striking and comprehensive collection of images reinforces Wallace Stegner’s proclamation that the national parks were America’s “best idea.” From vintage postcards to contemporary art photography, the book features an eclectic array of perspectives and styles in both black-and-white and color.
There are several works by Ansel Adams—not surprisingly, since his name has become synonymous with the parks. His breathtaking views of mountain peaks and clouds are simultaneously analytical and spiritual. More recent photographers like Martin Parr and Roger Minick employ a looser, more jocular style by photographing people and their relationship to their surroundings. Others, like Abelardo Morell and David Benjamin Sherry, offer artistic portrayals that make the parks seem familiar yet foreign at the same time. The book’s visual range is as broad and diverse as the parks themselves—a good indication that the park system will remain a compelling subject for years to come.