So what does it take to be the next Ansel Adams? The U.S. National Park Service is hiring a photographer to fill a role once held by the legendary landscape artist. While the job is open only to American citizens, it’s interesting to see what it takes to succeed a legend. But applicants are forewarned. Unlike in Adams’ time, it’s not all hiking and sunsets. There will be desk work. Here’s what’s involved:
Who was Ansel Adams?
Even if you don’t know his name, you’ve likely seen his iconic, and often stunning, black and white images. His photographs — especially those from Yosemite National Park — have been widely reproduced on calendars and posters. Adams actually only worked for the Park Service in 1941 and ’42, but he spent his life documenting nature and American heritage, using light, composition and darkroom techniques in a way that resulted in breathtaking art.
What’s needed now?
“(Adams) had a special sense that’s hard to duplicate, though we would love to do so with this position if possible,” says Park Service spokesman Jeremy Barnum. “We want to attract the best photographer possible to the position. It’s an important job that will help document some of our country’s more historic and valuable places.”
Who’s needed now?
Whoever gets the job must be able to work with large-format cameras using black-and-white film — as Adams did — but also use modern digital techniques both to capture images and preserve them. Some of the photos will be taken in colour, depending on the subject matter. The pictures are chiefly for submission to the U.S. Library of Congress. The successful candidate must also be adept in the darkroom to produce quality prints for exhibition.
The fine print
This job is not the walk in the park it was for Adams, who was commissioned to create murals for the National Park Service. In fact, some of the photo shoots will occur in urban centres rather than parks. The photographer will produce surveys of buildings and engineering feats — such as railroads and bridges — and other landmarks for heritage documentation. It’s not necessarily “about artistic expression,” says Barnum. Some of the photo surveys, though, will be of landscapes.
The finer print
It won’t all be taking pictures. Some parts of the job are less glamorous. The candidate will curate submissions for potential inclusion in the Library of Congress, develop photographic guidelines, document what is already in the collection, and make presentations about it. Adams never did that. The job application states that the candidate should be prepared for overnight travel up to 10 nights a month. The pay is as much as $99,296 (U.S.) per year.
The physical demands
The official job description states that the successful candidate will “work at project sites (that) require physical exertion such as long periods of standing; walking over rough or rocky surfaces; recurring bending, crouching or stretching; and recurring lifting of moderately heavy equipment and materials.” It also warns that “project sites often involve moderate risks and discomfort due to the deteriorating state of some sites and exposure to weather conditions.”
Ansel Adams was commissioned by the Department of the Interior, which oversees the National Park Service, to photograph parks for a mural. That project ended in 1942 with the attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entering the Second World War. His pictures — 26 of them — were finally hung in 2010 in the department’s building in Washington, D.C. “It’s a great way to get inspired to go to work for the good of the national parks,” says Barnum, who walks by the art daily.
The National Park Service received what Barnum calls “a lot of interest,” from both potential candidates and curious media — much of the latter because of the connection initial stories and social media made to Adams “rather than the actual language from the job announcement.” Only two photographers have held a full-time position with the agency. One worked 35 years, the other 50. So it must be a good gig. Applications have closed and a hire will be announced soon.