A plume of warm human breath billows above the frozen ice fields of the Alaskan wilderness. Award-winning New Mexico-based photographer David Muench lugs his heavy 4”x5” large format camera through this primordial landscape, his eyes carefully tracking the ever-shifting light. Then it happens: A salmon-colored alpenglow illuminates the imposing peak of Mount Saint Elias, which towers above purplish-black glaciers. Muench triggers the shutter to capture this fleeting instance, a landscape equivalent of what photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson referred to as “the decisive moment.” For Muench, this means imagining “spontaneous moments of fantastic light.”
Viewed through this lens, the landscapes in Muench’s new collection depict a rapidly vanishing world burdened by the prospect of its future destruction. The images summon us to our own decisive moment: If we waver in our commitment to fund and protect our national parks, future generations will experience them only through photographs like Muench’s.
Muench’s landscapes and Rudner’s accompanying essays beckon us back to the natural world; sumptuous colors and textures invite us to become intimate with sand and sky, stream and stone. By framing a foreground element—fireweed, bear grass, caribou antlers, a crescent-shaped glacial fragment—Muench’s photographs allow the eye to effortlessly journey into the sprawling wilderness looming in the background. We’re meant to inhabit these spaces, not just view them. The images give us a bridge back to what Abbey calls “the only paradise we ever need—if only we had the eyes to see.”
Christopher Guider holds a Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature and has published numerous articles on the relationship between memory, place and photography in twentieth-century works of literature.