Each January Booth Museum highlights the work of a Georgia artist whose artwork relates to the Museum’s mission, by highlighting them in a one-person exhibition. Peter Essick, a National Geographic photographer based in Stone Mountain will be the 2017 honoree. He will be the first photographer to have their work showcased in this series. The exhibition centers around a portfolio of 33 images from Canada’s Yoho National Park, seen in the June 2015 issue of National Geographic Magazine.
I recently sat down with Peter and with Seth Hopkins, Executive Director of the Booth Museum. I would like to thank them both for sharing their time with South x Southeast. -editor
Nancy McCrary: The Yoho National Park is named for a Cree expression of awe and wonder. This expresses exactly what I felt when admiring your photographs. What brought you to Yoho originally?
Peter Essick: I traveled to British Columbia for a story about the mountain pine beetle a few years before I did the Yoho story. It was while I was in Canada that I heard about this special park. Yoho had had some exposure to the pine beetle, but overall had avoided the worst effects. It seemed like a great story about a place that had many visual opportunities but wasn’t as well-known as other parks.
NM: You photographed the park in the winter. Tell us about navigating that terrain and why the winter light was so important.
PE: It is always advantageous to photograph in different seasons, if possible. Yolo is known for their cold winters and deep snow, so I knew I wanted to photograph then. The main road through the park is open, but to get to every other location in the park requires cross country skiing and carrying all your gear. I hired two guides and we pulled all our food and equipment on sleds. Fortunately, there are some wonderful historic mountain huts that are open in the winter where you can sleep and do all your cooking. There are not too many hours of light in the deep glacial valleys of Yoho during the short days of winter. However, there are still some unique lighting effects that happen in the blue reflections off the snow and ice.
NM: One of your photographs is of a moon dog, or paraselene. How does this phenomena occur and how did you go about shooting it?
PE: A moon dog happens after the clearing of a snowstorm when there are still ice crystals in the air. Then after dark if you look straight at a full moon there appears a circle 22 degrees in diameter. It is a natural phenomenon like a rainbow but is more rare. Once you see it, it is pretty straightforward to photograph with a digital camera.
NM: What challenges did the quickly changing weather conditions present, and how did you go about working with those?
PE: When I was photographing in Yoho in late September it was common for the day to start out clear and then have heavy rain or even some snow later in the afternoon. These changing conditions make for good landscape photo opportunities. It helps to spend some time in the park to begin to anticipate the weather patterns. If you have the right clothes to keep warm, photographing in a snowstorm is not too difficult. Photographing in heavy rain is harder and requires setting up beforehand somewhere with cover to keep everything dry.
NM: In the June, 2015 National Geographic article on Yoho you state, “a successful photograph for me retains the feelings and emotions of the natural experience”. What advice would you give photographers who try to achieve this with their own work?
PE: I feel the best explanation of a successful nature photograph was made by Ansel Adams. He said he tried to make a photographic “extract” with his composition of the scene that summed up how he felt about the experience. When you are in a place like Yoho you are surrounded by a dramatic landscape, but it is up to the skill of the photographer to best capture in a photograph that sense of grandeur or intimate beauty. The best advice I could give photographers would be to spend a long enough time in a place that you can begin to see the workings of the natural cycle and to react to them. For me, just being in a natural environment is a special treat so I enjoy the challenge of trying to make meaningful photos that have feeling and begin to do justice to the landscape.
South x Southeast Photomagazine Interview questions for Booth Western Art Museum Executive Director Seth Hopkins.
Nancy McCrary: SxSE is excited about the new January one-person exhibition featuring a Georgia artist at The Booth Western Art Museum. Tell us about your decision to honor our state’s artists in this way and what you foresee for this project.
Seth Hopkins: For many years we have honored one Georgia artist, whose art relates to the Museum’s collections, with a one person show at the Booth Western Art Museum. We look at it as the Georgia Artist of the Year program. It has become quite prestigious and is viewed as an important honor by the artists who have been featured.
2017 will be the first year we have honored a photographer in this series, and it looks to be a spectacular show, filled with great scenes shot by an outstanding photographer in a little known area in the midst of some of the most visited places in the Canadian West.
NM: Peter Essick’s exhibition Yoho National Park: A Canadian Gem opens January 10th and continues through March 12th. Will there be an artist’s talk, opening reception, and other opportunities for the public to learn more about this body of work?
SH: The official opening of the exhibition will be part of the Museum’s monthly Art for Lunch series. On February 1st Essick will discuss the show with a museum staff member on stage in the Booth Ballroom. Lunch will be available for purchase. Following the talk, Essick will be in the gallery to answer questions and point out his favorite images.
NM: Peter has produced an extensive body of work of nature and environmental photography. What drew you to the images from Yoho National Park?
SH: First the images are stunning, but they are also quite diverse, since he visited the area several times in several seasons, over years of time. Second, we often lack for material related to Western Canada, which has a very similar history to our American West. Third, this is one of Peter’s most recent bodies of work, appearing in National Geographic in 2015, and he was enthusiastic about showing these images and introducing people to this beautiful and rugged park which lies very close to Banff and Lake Louise. Fourth, it gave me an excuse to go visit Yoho on a trip last summer to Calgary and Edmonton.
NM: The Booth Photography Guild has grown to over 150 members, photographers of all levels of expertise. Tell us about 2017 plans for the Guild and how a photographer might join.
SH: 2017 will be a big year for photography at the Booth. With our Guild now at about 180 members and continuing to grow, the Museum is putting more resources into the photographic arts. Mary Margaret Cornwell was hired to fill a newly created Curator of Photography position. She will be the liaison to the Guild, as well as organizing incoming photo exhibitions, such as the upcoming Creating Camelot which features images by Jacque Lowe of a young JFK and his family. Upcoming exhibitions may also feature the work of Laura Wilson, Jay Dusard, Bob Kolbrenner and Booth favorite Ansel Adams.
Meanwhile the Guild will continue its outstanding educational mixture of hands-on how to programming, image critique sessions and top notch speakers. Membership in the Booth Photography Guild is $24 per year in addition to a Booth membership. For more information, call 770 387-1541 or visit https://supportus.georgiamuseums.org/boothmembership; or attend a monthly meeting as a guest. The Guild meets the second Tuesday of each month, usually in the Booth Ballroom.
Yoho National Park – A Canadian Gem
Photographs by Peter Essick
January 10 – March 12, 2017
Artist’s Talk February 1st at the Art for Lunch series
Booth Western Art Museum
501 Museum Drive
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday – 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
Thursday – 10:00 am to 8:00 pm
Sunday – 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm