Paul Horsted and Camille Riner have done it again. Their latest offering of repeat photography, taking old photos and recreating them very precisely again in the same places, is an art form and a passion for the husband and wife team from Custer.
"Treasure of the National Parks: Yesterday and Today" is an important contribution to our understanding of some of our most significant public lands. America’s public lands are the only wild lands most of us will ever own. “Seeing” how they evolved over time through Horsted’s and Riner’s newest coffee table volume reinforces their eloquent testimony to the Age of Conservation and our commitment to our shared future.
Cameras haven’t been around very long, which is hard to believe in this age of the ubiquitous cellphone and content-hungry social media. Future generations will have plenty of archives from every angle of everything under the sun and the stars but photos of the past, images from the early days when you needed a horse-drawn SUV to carry your equipment are rare and delightful. Even after cameras became more available, good illustrative pictures of forest and range conditions, landscapes, infrastructure and other important data were not common.
It took extraordinary effort for Horsted and Riner to first decide which parks should be included, second find worthy photographs from the past and then saddle up to go find the locations, often unrecognizable, so they could, finally, take the right picture at the right time of day in the right conditions to make a one-to-one comparison in a digital format.
The book is inspiring in the way that great works are always inspiring; how did they do that and how did they get it so right? The uncanny attention to detail in finding and extracting the essence of the locations and changes through time, the attention to detail and the talented presentation created by Riner all add up to a must-have work of art and imagery for anyone who loves our parks.
Horsted, famous for his book "Exploring with Custer" and subsequent titles, is perhaps the master of repeat photography in the world today. There is no substitute for exploring change that is as effective as seeing it with your own eyes. While seeing is not always believing, Horsted’s methodical and precise application of science and art to capture the essence of a place and time and transfer it to the present is unequaled and always worth the time to ponder and wonder.
There is about this book something of the essence of what makes Ken Burns so trustworthy and believable. I am certain that were I to launch on the same mission for the same purpose, I would, with lots of luck, take exactly the same picture. We are taken through time honestly and forthrightly, any conclusions about what happened or didn’t happen left entirely to us without comment. Only context is provided in the best tradition of observers of any great enterprise.
Make no mistake, our national parks are one of the greatest enterprises of any nation in any age of human kind. Imagine the wealth and power of a nation to purposefully withdraw millions of acres of the last best places from general extractive use, to preserve those places for posterity in the face of huge political push-back, and to do it in spite of opposition from the start.
Our national parks are an unequivocal statement about us as a people — we Americans. Horsted and Riner have captured snapshots in time, many years removed, so that we may pause and wonder at the grandeur that is our inheritance and our future intent.