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NPR Arts & Life

National Park Service Launches Search For Next Ansel Adams

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

If you're a photographer, how about this for a job description - it's a staff position with benefits, you get to travel all around the U.S. and some of the country's most famous landscapes. Sure, you have to be willing to do strenuous exercise to get the best shots, but you can also say you have the job once held by Ansel Adams. The National Park Service is about to pick a new staff photographer. And to talk about this, I'm joined by Rich O'Connor. He's the chief of heritage documentation programs at the Park Service. Thanks for coming in.

O'CONNOR: Thank you.

CORNISH: And we're also here with Kainaz Amaria. She's an editor with NPR's visuals team and a photographer. Hey there, Kainaz.

KAINAZ AMARIA, BYLINE: Hi, Audio.

CORNISH: All right, so she's going to help guide me through some of the questions here because I imagine this is a dream job for Kainaz and others.

AMARIA: Dream job indeed.

CORNISH: How many applications did you get?

O'CONNOR: Well, let's just say we've got a lot. The interest that it's spurred has been heartwarming.

CORNISH: So the job listing does not mention Ansel Adams, but, of course, it's hard not to think of him. Obviously other people have held the job over the decades. But one of the reasons is because, obviously, those photos of the national parks by Adams are just so famous. Kainaz, tell us a little bit more about kind of why - why that legacy's so rich.

AMARIA: When you think about broad, sweeping landscape images, especially in black and white, you say Ansel Adams. I think that's the clearest way to describe his legacy.

CORNISH: And this is going to involve a large-format camera, right, this job, to fulfill this legacy. Rich O'Connor, if you could talk a little bit about what that means. Physically, right, this is - we're talking a tripod. We're talking a pretty big camera for people who are used to taking photos with their phone.

O'CONNOR: Well, it's this photographer with a cape over his head blocking the light and a tripod with a big camera set up in front of him. They're seeing an upside-down image. They have a slide that they put in. They can take two photos per slide. And they carry these slides around in a big case, and then they bring the case back. And then, in the lag, they develop them.

AMARIA: And these are large-format pieces of film that, Rich, go from - what? - four by six to...

O'CONNOR: Five by seven and eight by 10.

CORNISH: Why was large-format work still a requirement in the age of Instagram?

O'CONNOR: Large format's important for several reasons. One is that it captures a huge amount of information on each photograph. That allows those photographs to be blown up to huge proportions and retain all of their visual clarity.

CORNISH: So it blows away any and all pixel counts, for people at home who are trying to think about this in terms of their own consumer cameras.

O'CONNOR: You're not going to get it on your iPhone. And then, it's also durable over the long-term. The negative, when properly stored, as ours are at the Library of Congress, has the longest lifespan that we can imagine. They estimate 500 years. And then, finally, it's more difficult to fool around with a large-format photograph and make it look like it's something that it isn't

CORNISH: Kainaz, you joked in the newsroom that this was a dream job. But for those of us who, you know, are not photographers, what is it actually that makes it a dream job because I see a lot of hiking, which I'm not so into, you know, and I see maybe being out in not-great weather. What is it about this that you think is so great?

AMARIA: For a photographer, the idea of traveling to national parks to slow down and be able to see these places in a really sort of considered way and to get paid for that - a lot of times, for photographers, that is the hardest thing. And to be able to cultivate a voice and to be able to share it with so many people is an incredible opportunity.

O'CONNOR: Can I just add to that? I think, dream job - yes. But it's also an opportunity to shoot sites not only within the Park Service, but with outside in the communities around the parks, sites that aren't under the umbrella of the National Park Service but are still significant in American history.

AMARIA: I think Rich is saying don't romanticize it too much.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: No, historical places - I'm into that.

O'CONNOR: Deep urban environments - we love them. Old factory buildings, we love.

CORNISH: Rich O'Connor, we should note, right now, you have all the applications you are going to take. It is closed, and you expect to make an announcement maybe this summer.

O'CONNOR: Late spring, early summer, yes.

CORNISH: All right. Well, Rich O'Connor - he's chief of heritage documentation programs for the National Park Service. Thank you so much for coming in.

O'CONNOR: Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: And Kainaz Amari of NPR's visuals team, see you in the newsrooms.

AMARIA: Hey, thanks, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.