National Parks Service

An Interview With Our Land Artist, Bob Herbst

Bob Herbst, Green River Overlook, After the Storm, 2006, platinum/palladium print, 12 x 20 in., courtesy of the artist

Bob Herbst, Green River Overlook, After the Storm, 2006, platinum/palladium print, 12 x 20 in., courtesy of the artist

Interview conducted by Theresa Bembnister, Akron Art Museum Associate Curator

Akron Art Museum: Can you explain to me your interest in photographing the American West, specifically the national parks?

Bob Herbst: In 1993 I decided to take a photography workshop in southern Utah which involved camping out in the desert and photographing for a week. My wife and I were raised in camping-oriented families and had done canoeing expeditions for the 10 years prior in Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, so it sounded like something I would enjoy. I added a few extra days on the front end of the trip and stopped at Zion and Bryce National Parks on my way from Las Vegas to the location of the workshop in what is now known as the Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument. I was hooked immediately. I had seen the Smoky Mountains and Yosemite, but nothing like the canyon country of southern Utah and northern Arizona. It was grand, peaceful, unlike anything I had ever seen, and like another planet in some cases. It was a beautiful place to photograph but just being there was enough for me. I camped out in the desert in a small tent under the stars, occasionally staying at a motel for a break, a soft bed, and a good hearty meal.

Jane went with me in 1994. I did solo trips in 1995 and 1996, and two trips with my best friend in 1997 and 1999. I returned in 2005 and 2006 with a different friend who had also explored some of the same areas himself for a number of years. With two four-wheel-drive vehicles, we could go places where it wouldn’t be safe for just one…and we did. Health and day job issues kept me away for a while but I returned in 2012 for what I considered my last “hurrah!” It was time to move on. I have years of printing ahead.

Your question caused me to reminisce a little and I found a picture that another workshop student took of me on the canyon country exploratory in 1993. I could carry that camera pack and tripod all day back then. This is where the 20-year odyssey started. The canyon country of southern Utah and northern Arizona is a very special place for me. Many of the national parks and national monuments are not well known which made exploring them all the more special over 20 years.

Herbst poses in canyon country in 1993, courtesy of the artist

Herbst poses in canyon country in 1993, courtesy of the artist

At least one of the scenes you captured in your photographs in Our Land is no longer accessible to the general public, correct? How did you reach that overlook and why is it no longer available to park visitors?

Actually, both images are taken at standard viewpoints in the parks easily accessible by car. The image at Bryce Point is gone because split rail fences have been erected in the foreground in an attempt to restrict tourists from getting too close to the edge. The areas I mentioned that are no longer accessible are typically land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, a federal government branch. They have fewer resources than the National Park Service and manage far more land so they sometimes have to close areas due to funding issues. The National Park Service does an absolutely wonderful job of keeping the parks in southern Utah and northern Arizona accessible. In this country, it is not unusual for numerous dirt and gravel roads to be washed out completely several times a year. A single thunderstorm in Canyonlands National Park can change everybody’s plans on the White Rim Road. I have had that experience. Our trip out from Toroweep in the Grand Canyon National Park was similar after a major thunderstorm that wiped out roads all over the area. We made it out with a National Forest Service fire truck behind us if we got stuck – an angel on our shoulders! The park service has regular ranger patrols to help broken down or stuck visitors and to report road conditions. They repair the roads as quickly as conditions allow. I have been very impressed during my travels throughout the parks and have nothing but praise for the National Park Service.

Bob Herbst, Bryce Point, Snowy October Morning, 1994, platinum/palladium print, 16 x 12 in., courtesy of the artist

Bob Herbst, Bryce Point, Snowy October Morning, 1994, platinum/palladium print, 16 x 12 in., courtesy of the artist

Your photographs of the American West are remarkable, but you’ve also taken pictures of national park scenery closer to home. What can you tell me about your photographs of the Ohio Turnpike bridges in Cuyahoga Valley National Park?

Bob Herbst, Old Bridge Rubble, 2002, platinum/palladium print, 12 x 20 in., courtesy of the artist

Bob Herbst, Old Bridge Rubble, 2002, platinum/palladium print, 12 x 20 in., courtesy of the artist

I began photographing the turnpike bridges in 2002 when I started working with a 12×20 inch view camera. Digital negatives were in their infancy at that time so you still needed a big negative for big prints. Because of the size and weight of all of the associated equipment, I needed local subjects for working with the camera. My wife and I had spent a lot of time in the Cuyahoga Valley on towpath trails walking our dog and when I was chasing the Cuyahoga Valley Line steam train up and down the valley in the late 1980s. The scale of the new bridges captivated me, especially when viewed from below. They were part way through the construction of the second bridge at the time. Some of the very first 12×20 negatives I shot were of the bridges.

Bob Herbst, Bridge Piers, 2002, platinum/palladium print, 20 x 12 in., courtesy of the artist

Bob Herbst, Bridge Piers, 2002, platinum/palladium print, 20 x 12 in., courtesy of the artist

A 12×20 camera made from brass and mahogany with a red bellows tends to attract attention where ever you are. One Saturday I was shooting the bridges from Riverview Road and a man stopped by out of curiosity. He saw the camera and we chatted for a while. He turned out to be the supervisor of the entire turnpike bridge construction project for the main contractor. He gave me permission to photograph on the construction site on the weekends when they weren’t working and gave me one of his business cards for any questions I might get from others. I returned periodically until both bridges were complete and the last of the old bridges was dynamited and demolished.

Bob Herbst, Finished Bridges, 2002, platinum/palladium print, 20 x 12 in., courtesy of the artist

Bob Herbst, Finished Bridges, 2002, platinum/palladium print, 20 x 12 in., courtesy of the artist

I would also like for you to see an iconic image from 1989 in what was then the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area, still administered by the National Park Service. The “National Park” designation came in 2000. The train was pulled by a steam locomotive, No. 4070, and known as the Cuyahoga Valley Line. It ran between Howard Street in Akron and Cleveland. The next year I spent the winter photographing the refurbishment of the locomotive in the old B&O roundhouse in the flats of Cleveland. After chasing it up and down the river valley all summer and fall, I captured the attached image at the Ira Road crossing near Hale Farm. A catastrophic mechanical failure early the following year sidelined the locomotive forever. Diesel locomotives have pulled the CVSR excursion train ever since.

Bob Herbst, No. 4070 at Ira Rd. Crossing, 1989, platinum/palladium print, courtesy of the artist

Bob Herbst, No. 4070 at Ira Rd. Crossing, 1989, platinum/palladium print, courtesy of the artist

What type of camera do you use?

I have used a variety of camera formats over the years progressing through 35mm, 2-1/4” square, 4×5, 8×10, 12×20, and digital. Bryce Point, Snowy October Morning was shot with a 4×5 camera. The print is from a digitally enlarged negative made on an Epson ink jet printer. Green River Overlook, After the Storm was shot with a 12×20 camera, so the print is a contact print from the original 12×20 film negative. Platinum/palladium printing is a contact printing process so you need a negative the size of the print you want. Up until about 13 years ago when digital negatives became a viable option, the other options for creating large negatives was to either shoot with a large format camera, or employ a tedious multi-step wet darkroom process to create enlarged film negatives from smaller negatives. In 2002 I wrote an article in View Camera magazine about that process. I now print almost entirely from digital negatives made on an Epson ink jet printer. The source of the image can be a scan of any size of film, b&w or color negatives or color transparencies, or from direct digital capture from a phone, digital camera, or scanner.

Herbst’s 12x20 camera at Hatch Point overlooking Shafer Canyon, courtesy of the artist

Herbst’s 12×20 camera at Hatch Point overlooking Shafer Canyon, courtesy of the artist

Why do you print your work using the platinum/palladium method?

I started printing black and white silver gelatin in the camera club darkroom at Goodyear Jr. High School in Akron in 1970. I was the quintessential high school yearbook and newspaper photographer at Akron East High School from 1971-1974 and did senior pictures in college after that. In 1991, at the urging of a friend, I took an evening class on platinum/palladium printing at Kent State University. I fell in love with the process. It renders images so much more beautifully than what I could get from silver gelatin. Platinum prints have a subtle tonal rendering, a smoother scale, an inner luminescence, and ability to represent a greater scale of light than is possible in traditional silver gelatin papers or ink jet prints. The images appear to have more depth because the coating solution soaks deep into the paper. A traditional silver gelatin print has an emulsion that sits on top of the paper making the image look more two-dimensional. Ink jet prints are mostly ink on the surface of the paper.

But as much as anything, for me, platinum/palladium printing is about the handmade print…made one at a time, coated with a brush, processed in trays, and placed on screens to dry, all by my hand.

Our Land, an exhibition of photographs of areas under the management of the National Park Service, is on view through February 12, 2017 in the Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell Gallery. The exhibition includes the photographs Bryce Point, Snowy October Morning and Green River Overlook, After the Storm by Bob Herbst, along with photographs by Richard Misrach, Ansel Adams, Masumi Hayashi, Ricky Rhodes, Marilyn Bridges and others.

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This Land Is Your Land… (Finding Photographs on the Run) Part 2 of 2

Editor’s note: Akron Art Museum board member Sue Klein has visited—and photographed—every single one of the national parks. She wrote the following account of her journeys for the Garden Club of America’s Focus magazine. The GCA generously granted permission to republish Klein’s article in conjunction with Our Land, an exhibition of photographs of areas under the management of the National Park Service. Organized in celebration of the centennial anniversary of the NPS, Our Land is on display through February 12, 2017 in the Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell Gallery.

Isle Royale National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Isle Royale National Park, photo by Sue Klein

by Sue Klein, Akron Art Museum Board Member

Visiting the national parks took us to some unimaginable places in our own magnificent country. My husband George and I had visited 28 of the national parks when we decide to go for broke and visit all the other 39 (includes three added along the way). To plan our visits, we just figure out how to get there and where to stay and do the rest when we arrive on site. Usually I take a tripod, but rarely, if ever, use it–we are moving light and flexible. I look for the non-iconic shots (but truthfully I do shoot Old Faithfuls and Half Domes). In the following journal just one or two adventures or experiences per park are mentioned. This is only a taste.

Isle Royale National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Isle Royale National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Isle Royale
Michigan, 2009

The essence of this place is wolves, moose, granite, water, prehistoric copper mining pits (1500 B.C.), a boreal forest, bogs and plant diversity. This 209-square-mile park is an international biosphere reserve, encompassing a remote and primitive wilderness archipelago on Lake Superior. It consists of one big island and several smaller ones off the Minnesota/Canadian border. A three-hour boat ride from Copper Harbor, Michigan, is our gateway to the park.

We explore only one little section of the main island and nearby Raspberry Island. Nevertheless, we get a taste of everything except for moose and wolves. But, miraculously, in the evening a professor lectures on wolves and moose and how they keep each other in check. Park talks are something we always look forward to and this one is especially interesting. Our basic lodging accommodation is the only place with beds and plumbing in the park. Otherwise it’s tents.

On our second day, we hear a big storm with big winds is headed our way. We opt to get out of Dodge before the storm hits and hop the evening boat on calm waters back to Copper Harbor. Isle Royale is a place to come back to, maybe to stay in a tent and just soak in all the goodies in this small jewel of a park. Perhaps we would even see a moose or wolf!

Pinnacles National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Pinnacles National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Pinnacles National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Pinnacles National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Pinnacles
California, 2013

This park, our second to last, is just east of Carmel and Monterey. In early January 2013, I tell the superintendent of our Cuyahoga Valley National Park that we are about to complete our quest to visit the 58 national parks. “Oh no,” says he. “As of last week there is a new one,” and off we go to Pinnacles.

My sister and brother-in-law join us for this adventure. Pinnacles, a combination of volcanic and sedimentary rock, is part of a 23-million-year-old volcano 195 miles to the southeast near Los Angeles. The giant San Andreas Fault split the volcano, and the western part crept north, carrying the rock pinnacles.

The Junior Canyon loop trail from the west side of the park winds up to the top and goes back down a different way. It’s like a Disney ride with every imaginable feature squeezed in along the way: huge rock formations, backlit trees, tunnels through huge rock formations, narrow boards bridging rock ravines, rickety steep metal steps with a surprise lake at the top, scenic vistas from the top and the pièce de resistance: California condors with 10-foot wingspans circling at the summit.

I could walk this 4.2-mile trail every day and never get tired of it. It’s spectacular. In fact, I recommend this as my #1 favorite hike in all the parks… really!

Yosemite National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Yosemite National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Yosemite National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Yosemite National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Yosemite
California, July 2014

“No temple made with human hands can compare with Yosemite,” wrote John Muir. For me it’s about soaring trees, high waterfalls, huge granite walls, snow, meadows, the intimate valley and my memories. This is my home stomping ground for national parks.

We have been here before with our children, but this time we include our four grandchildren. It’s our victory lap celebration, as well as our 50th wedding anniversary. We expect it to be hot and jammed, and it is. However, somehow visitors have a reverence for this place and it‘s very peaceful, like being in a magic bubble. For four days we play in the valley on the river, in the visitor centers, on the trails and on the boulders. Part of the family goes rock climbing in the high country.

For me there is a heart-stopping “Aha!” moment. Part of our three-generation group drives up to Glacier Point (elev. 7,214 ft.) overlooking the valley. As we drive around a corner we are suddenly up close and personal with the iconic Half Dome (think Ansel Adams). There it is, at eye level across the valley, it is so close. I can’t take my eyes off old Half Dome. It pulls me with an irresistible force. I am speechless! I can still conjure up that moment.

As we leave Yosemite, our oldest grandchild, Jason (then 12) names his three favorite things: the lazy inner tube float through the valley on the Merced River, rock climbing in the high country and (be still my heart) the live, one-man John Muir show. I know he gets it.

Our thirteen-year adventure took us to unimaginable places in our own country, in many cases far off the beaten track. Whether the park was one of the biggies or something like Hot Springs, Arkansas (my first time in the state), Great Basin in Nevada (a five-hour drive across the Great Salt Lake desert at night), or Theodore Roosevelt in North Dakota (a two-hour drive west from Bismarck past oil wells and sunflower fields), I can remember every one by some unique experience. That is, as we checked parks off our list, we discovered, often by accident, so much about our own glorious country that we never knew!

So, “just do it.” Make plans, but don’t schedule every minute, something better might turn up, like a California condor, a sandstorm, a yin-yang experience or an in-your-face Half Dome. If you need extra incentive, take your kids or grand kids.

Read Part 1 of Sue Klein’s National Park adventure! 

Start your own National Park Adventure by visiting Our Land at the Akron Art Museum and the nearby Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

 

This Land is Your Land… (finding photographs on the run) Part 1 of 2

Editor’s note: Akron Art Museum board member Sue Klein has visited—and photographed—every single one of the national parks. She wrote the following account of her journeys for the Garden Club of America’s Focus magazine. The GCA generously granted permission to republish Klein’s article in conjunction with Our Land, an exhibition of photographs of areas under the management of the National Park Service. Organized in celebration of the centennial anniversary of the NPS, Our Land is on display through February 12, 2017 in the Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell Gallery.

Wrangell—St. Elias National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Wrangell—St. Elias National Park, photo by Sue Klein

by Sue Klein, Akron Art Museum Board Member

Visiting the national parks took us to some unimaginable places in our own magnificent country. My husband George and I had visited 28 of the national parks when we decide to go for broke and visit all the other 39 (includes three added along the way). To plan our visits, we just figure out how to get there and where to stay and do the rest when we arrive on site. Usually I take a tripod, but rarely, if ever, use it–we are moving light and flexible. I look for the non-iconic shots (but truthfully I do shoot Old Faithfuls and Half Domes). In the following journal just one or two adventures or experiences per park are mentioned. This is only a taste.

Guadalupe Mountains

Texas, April 2003

Way south on the New Mexico border. The mountains are actually part of an ancient marine fossil reef. We find a flat 6.8-mile loop trail (loops are the best) at McKittrick Canyon. Around each corner we discover treasures: a rattlesnake, a tree with alligator bark, squawroot, an unusual cliff and, at the end, a blinding sandstorm. I am like a kid in a candy shop. The sandstorm blows in fast and furious, 80 mph we are told. The white sand piles up along the road like snow.

Everglades

Florida, December 2003

We are mountain people. We tell ourselves this is only a trip to check a park off our bucket list. However, our adventures in the Everglades are pure delight. There are so many short walks, boat rides (motor and self-propelled) and even biking opportunities through different environments: sawgrass, swamp and mangroves by boardwalks, alligator territory and others. Most can be done on our own time. The boardwalk at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is our introduction and I feel like I am squealing as we wander through this amazing swamp, hanging over railings and gawking at the birds, plants, flowers and the general landscape. (It’s actually in a national preserve contiguous to the official Everglades. National parks are often surrounded by other federal lands.) A favorite adventure in Everglades National Park is a moonlight paddle after dinner to see the roseate spoonbills. The pink birds are beautiful as they come into roost with a pink sunset and pink water reflections. On the way back in the dark, our guide shines a flashlight on the water and we see alligator eyes all around us.

Joshua Tree National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Joshua Tree National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Joshua Tree National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Joshua Tree National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Joshua Tree

California, April 2004

“Rather than be dazzled by man’s accomplishment, you’ll be bewildered by nature,” say our hosts at our desert funk motel. We aren’t particularly interested in deserts. But, then there are the amazing rocks and rock formations. It looks like a playground for kids of all ages. Cacti, succulents and other plants are everywhere. Outrageous flowering plants are in full display. The Mojave and the Colorado deserts abut here. The Colorado is known for the cholla cactus and the Mojave (higher and wetter) is recognized by the Joshua trees. This is prime time on the desert. Look at us, we are now desert people! (FYI, it’s only 157 driving miles to LAX.)

Capitol Reef National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Capitol Reef National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Capitol Reef National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Capitol Reef National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Capitol Reef

Utah, April 2008

Capital Reef is Mother Nature on steroids. The reef is actually a “giant, sinuous wrinkle in the earth’s crust stretching for 100 miles” north and south, according to the park service. At first I love the huge-sized rocks, formations and jagged shapes. There is intense color, texture, layers, energy and chaos here. But after a few hours, I long for something peaceful, softer and soothing. I want out. We follow a dirt road outside and around the park, with less drama and lots of quiet beauty. Ahh, it feels better, and I immediately relax. A friend later explained to me that this was a yin and yang experience. That is I went too far, yang (chaos and jagged) and I needed to balance this with yin (rounded and calm). Bottom line, these parks really jiggle all the things I love, over-stimulating sometimes, but a thrill.

Saguaro

Arizona, April 2008

This park is divided into two parts, separated by the city of Tucson. We spend the night here in the 1930s Arizona Inn, a classic Spanish-style place… very high class for our national park adventures that usually run more to tents, Hampton Inns, and 1930s cabins (with one double bed and a bare overhead bulb). We head for Saguaro West and this time I have an agenda. I am looking for an image to enter in the “Joy of Sex” class at a Garden Club of America show. My 105 macro and monopod are with me as I walk along the Cactus Garden Trail. Oh, my gosh! When I focus in on the ripe blooms, it is a virtual porno show. I think I’m blushing. Giggling my way around this Garden of Eden, trying not to be such a prude, I discover a whole new lustful plant world. Mission accomplished.

Measuring up to 50 feet tall and up to 16,000 pounds, the saguaro plant is the largest North American cactus. In some places they covered the landscape like a forest.

Our thirteen-year adventure took us to unimaginable places in our own country, in many cases far off the beaten track. Whether the park was one of the biggies or something like Hot Springs, Arkansas (my first time in the state), Great Basin in Nevada (a five-hour drive across the Great Salt Lake desert at night), or Theodore Roosevelt in North Dakota (a two-hour drive west from Bismarck past oil wells and sunflower fields), I can remember every one by some unique experience. That is, as we checked parks off our list, we discovered, often by accident, so much about our own glorious country that we never knew!

So, “just do it.”  Make plans, but don’t schedule every minute, something better might turn up, like a California condor, a sandstorm, a yin-yang experience or an in-your-face Half Dome. If you need extra incentive, take your kids or grand kids.

Check back in a week for Part 2 of Sue Klein’s National Park adventure! 

Start your own National Park Adventure by visiting Our Land at the Akron Art Museum and the nearby Cuyahoga Valley National Park.