Few experiences in life can compare to spending time in one of America’s national parks. Whether you’re paddling up the iceberg-ridden waters of Glacier Bay’s East Arm, breathing in the wide open scenery of the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, or hiking up to a primitive site on the High Chisos Trail in Big Bend, the spacious solitude of protected nature can soothe even the most troubled soul.
If you happen to be between excursions, or lacking the time to sneak out to one of “America’s Greatest Treasures,” the Sam Houston Memorial Museum is currently hosting an exhibition that will visually transport you to all 59 national parks in a matter of hours.
Over the last four years, photographer Mark Burns, a Houston native, has been charged with the exhilarating task of documenting each park for The National Parks Photography Project. Spanning more than two dozen states, the collection pays tribute to the rich history and heritage of our national parks while celebrating the centennial of The National Parks Service body.
The exhibit, which will be on display at the Katy & E. Don Walker, Sr. Education Center through May 22, is presented in a simple and effective manner, with no unnecessary features. Clean black frames with white matting let the photographs do all the talking, while powerful quotes by past Presidents, writers and statesmen — many touching on the importance of preservation — float above the symmetrical groupings in subtle vinyl.
In rich, black and white prints, Burns’ understanding of the shape and scope of still life’s power is evident before you reach the second piece. These are no ordinary landscape snapshots, they are full, natural events captured in an instant with months of preparation. Burns has created intricate situations that magnificently portray the majesty of untouched nature when the only human forcing is that of preservation.
Working in true form with a large-format camera and fiber-based papers, the technical prowess shown by Burns is remarkable. Perfectly spanning the full monochromatic scale in every frame, each print seems to be born from ultimate patience and perseverance, both on the trail and in the darkroom.
Wispy clouds play in unison with the cresting peak of a mountain, reflections are framed in exact detail and common sights such as Yosemite’s monumental El Capitan are translated into other-worldly scenes through precise framing, toning and Burns’ ability to wait — for weeks it seems — for that perfect moment to release the shutter.
While the collection brings back memories of Ansel Adams in both production and presence, it seems to share the same romantic connection to the land that Adams had. Burns treats the landscape as if it had never been photographed before, highlighting contrasting elements, sprawling textures and astounding vistas to show the land’s worth and merit.
Over the next two weeks, take an hour (or three) and immerse yourself in this powerful show. The nearest national park may be hours away, but right now, all of them are just around the corner.
For more information on The National Parks Photography Project, visit www.mburnsphoto.com or www.thenationalparksphotographyproject.com.