The Grand Canyon is wild and unforgiving. But it is also one of the most stunning landscapes on Earth—a place for recreation, reflection and reverence. A beautiful Smithsonian exhibition allows us to marvel at this natural wonder without camping equipment, emergency rations or rappelling ropes.
Featuring 60 framed photographs, Lasting Light: 125 Years of Grand Canyon Photography is a collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and the Grand Canyon Association. The exhibition is now midway through its national tour, and can currently be seen at the Littleton Historical Museum, Littleton, CO, on view through February 23, 2012. If you can’t swing a visit to see this natural wonder in Colorado, perhaps you can catch a glimpse of the canyon’s beauty when the Smithsonian traveling exhibition comes to a venue near you. The exhibition tour continues through 2013, and the full itinerary can be seen at www.sites.si.edu. ARTES Fine Arts Magazine
Grand Canyon National Park, 2,000 square miles of snaking river beds and sheer rock walls, is a world like no other, where vibrant cliffs and flowing water create a striking complement to the Western sky. ‘Lasting Light’ reveals the dedication of those who have attempted to capture the Grand Canyon on film from the earliest days to modern times. Covering nearly 125 years of photographic history, the exhibition includes images of early photographers dangling from cables to get the perfect shot, their cumbersome camera equipment balanced precariously on their shoulders. More modern images are bold and dramatic, revealing the canyon’s capricious weather, its flora and fauna, waterfalls and wading pools, and awe-inspiring cliffs and rock formations. The stunning contemporary images were selected by representatives from Eastman Kodak’s Professional Photography Division and National Geographic.
‘Lasting Light’ chronicles the development of Grand Canyon photography as we know it today. As revealed in the exhibit, Timothy O’Sullivan, a Civil War photographer and veteran, took the first pictures of the Grand Canyon on behalf of Congress in the early 1870s. It took a minimum of three and half hours to make a single image, and he had to prepare the plates in the field using potentially explosive production materials. The work was dangerous and unpredictable.
Three decades later, Ellsworth and Emery Kolb, two steel-working brothers from Pittsburgh, brought the Grand Canyon to the masses in the early 1900s. The brothers became known for their pictures of tourists on mule rides, and later made history in 1912 as the first Colorado River travelers to film their adventures with a moving picture camera. As the brothers pointed out, the journey was not always glamorous. One afternoon, Emery reported that the group had “walked 22 miles and climbed over 5000 feet,” each carrying 20 pounds worth of film. Yet “the pleasurable thrills we experienced . . . when we developed our plates more than made up for any discomfort we may have experienced.”
With evermore remote and unexpected images, the brothers greatly expanded the breadth of Grand Canyon photography. Following in the Kolbs’ footsteps, the 26 contemporary photographers presented in the ‘Lasting Light’ exhibition have also changed the way we see and experience the Grand Canyon.
“What you do is keep it for your children, your children’s children, and for all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American should see,” Teddy Roosevelt urged. Roosevelt, ever the naturalist, was just one of the canyon’s devotees. There are millions of others, including the 26 featured photographers of ‘Lasting Light’, who ran the river and climbed the rocks to capture these breathtaking images.
“The Grand Canyon taught me a way of seeing. How to see light and design,” said featured photographer John Blaustein. Grand Canyon photographer Jack Dykinga notes, “I think I’ve experienced every single mood of the canyon, from sandstorms to ice storms, to waiting out dangerous conditions in a cave. For a photographer, mood is what elicits impact and emotion.” These and other intriguing narratives accompany the spectacular photographs, giving audiences the artists’ personal insight into the power of the Canyon.
As photographer Stephen Trimble points out in his book, Lasting Light: 125 Years of Grand Canyon Photography, “…as every other photographer who comes to the Grand Canyon, I’ve been humbled by the place and its checklist of challenges: vastness, remoteness, ruggedness- and on the river, the constant danger of water damage to equipment and the sickening sound of sandy grit in lenses and camera bodies.”
Trimble also notes that the exhibition gathers these stories, the pictures themselves “and the tales behind the photographs, intimate moments from the lives of men and women in love with the crazy notion of bringing home in their pictures the light and space and rocks and river of the Grand Canyon.”
Travelers who want to see the incredible scenic chasm in person can celebrate the National Parks during fee-free days in August of each year, when visitors aren’t charged an entrance fees to the Grand Canyon. http://www.nps.gov/findapark/feefreeparks.htm.
Learn more about the Grand Canyon Association, a non-profit membership organization that supports education, scientific research and other programs for the benefit of Grand Canyon National Park and its visitors, at www.grandcanyon.org.
SITES shares the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history with millions of people outside Washington, D.C. For more information on exhibitions and tour schedules, visit www.sites.si.edu.
by Lindsey Koren, Contributing Writer