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About America's Wonderlands

Wonderland: a place that excites admiration or wonder; an imaginary place of delicate beauty or magical charm. 

America’s Wonderlands: The Scenic National Parks and Monuments of the United States, a National Geographic Society publication from 1959, is a collection of photos and text from the magazine “capturing the awe, wonder, and pride the parks inspire.” Finding a discarded library copy of the book, I was captivated by the images of “wholesome,” whitebread, ‘50s people interacting with these iconic landscapes. I began incorporating images from the book into my photomontages–creating new versions of these wonderlands. 

America’s Wonderlands shows people at scenic overlooks - looking in, their backs to the camera. While visiting East Coast parks, I have observed people recording their experience there, often looking out–taking selfies, their backs to nature. A recent ScienceDaily article describes how the cultural value of landscapes is being calculated using geotagged photos on social media. Is it possible that the future of our public lands will be defined by a multitude of selfies and an accumulation of “likes”? Will photography, via social media, be the measure of utilization that guides the preservation and/or commodification of our wonderlands?

To examine the notions of “places of wonder” in our evolving culture, my photomontages combine contrasting images from the past and present: the old sky is often replaced with a contemporary sky; elements of the printing process are highlighted; and I place myself in the scene. These new vistas question perceptions of the natural environment, musing: What draws us to these locations and why? Does one tremble at their own insignificance in the face of such wild grandeur? Does “capturing” these landscapes add to our own personal sense of worth?