The Majestic Yosemite
A couple of weeks ago we drove southeast out of Sacramento and onwards to Yosemite National Park. I had visited as a child but only barely clung to a memory of eating pancakes in one of the park’s hotels and being captivated by what then seemed like wholly unlikely stories of bears turning over cars in search of food.
This most recent trip now came with a couple of decades of travel and study behind me and so brought a richer understanding of the park’s crucial position within the history of American landscape photography, an awareness of how complex our engagement can be with the danger and romanticism of the sublime and an urgent sense of how important national parks are in this era when all of the country’s bounty and beauty feel very tenuous.
With all that said, it’s interesting reflecting back on my photos and how void of other visitors they largely are, when in actual fact you’re typically surrounded by other people. It had me remembering a passage in Rebecca Solnit’s wonderful book River of Shadows, when discussing the photographs Eadweard Muybridge captured at Yosemite and how he wasn’t at all interested in depicting the valley as an untouched expanse:
“European Americans wanted to see their continent as an unfallen Eden. The explorers wanted to be Adam standing at the brink of an undiscovered continent.” Muybridge wasn’t after purity; he was after reality and included “footpaths, picket fences, idling figures…” Some pictures “rage with a chaos of downed trees, gnarled trunks, shattered debris, and sharp rocks, the last perhaps shaken loose by the earthquake… Such debris fills the foreground of many of the pictures. It looks like the wreckage from events of tremendous violence, and though the images are as dramatic as the work of his peers, they bear no traces of their beneficent deity.”