Repeat Photography and Glacial Shrinkage in Glacier National Park (Update 1)

Over the past few weeks, I have been working on the first stage of my project—preliminary research. My main focuses have been on Ansel Adams’s photography in Glacier National Park, repeat photography, climate change and glacial shrinkage, and climate change’s impacts on glacial tourism. The next stage of my research will be my trip to Glacier National Park in August.

I began my research by reading a biography of Ansel Adams written by Jonathan Spaulding. Spaulding’s work provided a great foundation for my research into Adams’s photography and impact on conservation. Additionally, the text described the context behind Adams’s visit to Glacier National Park; in 1941, Adams was commissioned by the Department of the Interior to complete a mural project of the national parks. I was able to access these photos through the National Archives.

When looking through Adams’s photos in Glacier National Park, I hoped to find close up photographs of glaciers that would be suitable for repeat photography. Repeat photography involves using historic and modern photos taken in the same location, and in Glacier National Park, it often involves glacial shrinkage. However, I quickly realized that most of Adams’s photos in Glacier National Park were taken from roads and easily accessible areas that are not close to the glaciers. Because repeat photography is such an important part of my project, I decided to expand my research to include other photographers. After researching the park’s glaciers, I determined that focusing on Grinnell Glacier would be the best direction for me to take, as it is relatively easy to access and one of the most photographed glaciers in the park. I then looked through the Montana Memory Project’s selection of Glacier National Park photos. From these photographs, I decided to recreate photos of Grinnell Glacier by Fred H. Kiser and T. J. Hileman. By recreating these photos, in addition to a few of Adams’s, I will learn more about repeat photography and create a visual representation of climate change.

Once I decided on the photos I want to recreate, I used Google Earth to determine their locations. I began with the Grinnell Glacier photos, and I was able to use Google Earth’s Street View photos that have been uploaded along the trail. After looking at Google Earth, I have determined that it should be fairly straightforward to recreate Kiser and Hileman’s photos of the glacier. The main issue I foresee is that I will be limited to the trail when taking photos, while both photographers potentially went to different areas to take their photos.  Additionally, as the hike to Grinnell Glacier is over 7 miles, I will only be able to do it once, and I will be reliant on weather conditions and visibility.

I then used Google Earth to determine the locations for Adams’s photos that I want to recreate. I began with his photo of Reynolds Mountain from Logan Pass. This photo should be more straightforward to recreate, as I will be able to walk around the visitor center instead of being limited to a mountainside trail. I looked into other photos by Adams, and decided to also recreate photos taken at Lake McDonald, St. Mary Lake (I located this photo by researching the location of the former Going-to-the-Sun Chalet), Two Medicine Lake, and another one of Reynolds Mountain. Even though these photos do not focus on glaciers, recreating them will give me a better understanding of repeat photography and Ansel Adams’s technique. There were some photos, like “In Glacier National Park,” that I hoped to recreate, but Adams did not include any location identifiers in the title, which made it unfeasible to locate them for this project.

In total, I will be recreating five of Adams’s photographs in addition to the ones of Grinnell Glacier that I have selected. Focusing on this number of photographs will enable me to take the time I need to create a high quality recreation at each location. I am excited to try repeat photography for myself, as I have read about it during my research, and I know it has been very useful in increasing public awareness of climate change.

In addition to researching photography in the park, I have researched glacial shrinkage and its effects on tourism. I began with Christopher White’s book, The Melting World, which provided me with a rich overview of the state of Glacier National Park’s glaciers. From my research, I have gathered that the consensus is that the park will lose its glaciers by 2030. The loss of glaciers will fundamentally alter ecosystems in the park, in addition to impacting tourism and the region’s economy. There is little research on glacial tourism, so it was difficult to find specific information on Glacier National Park. As a result, my research on glacial tourism and climate change’s effects was more generalized. When I visit Montana, I will interview residents and tourists, which will enable me to have a more localized perspective on how climate change will influence the park.

Now that I have completed this stage of my research, I will transition into researching Adams’s photography techniques and practicing my own photography before I travel to Montana.

Spaulding, Jonathan. Ansel Adams and the American Landscape: A Biography. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

White, Christopher. The Melting World: A Journey Across America’s Vanishing Glaciers. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2013.

Comments

  1. Hey Sydney,

    Your research is so interesting and definitely very relevant to our current world! I have not been to Glacier National Park in Montana, but I have been lucky enough to visit Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska and the Columbia Icefield in Alberta, Canada. The glaciers in these places are also rapidly melting which I learned, as you did with your research, will have huge implications for the environment and the tourism of these areas. Did you find any indications in your research that anything can be done to at least stall the melting of these glaciers or is the 2030 figure a pretty solidified one? Have a great trip, and I look forward to seeing the results of your project!

    Olivia

  2. lgkohout says:

    This is a really great research project topic. I am so excited to see your final images and survey results. I was in Alaska earlier this summer visiting family there, and I was able to see a lot of glaciers. We hiked up to one in particular, Exit glacier, and along the trail there were signs with years on it. Those signs showed visitors where the glacier used to be at that time. This absolutely blew me away at how much the glacier had receded (even in the past three years). I believe everyone should be aware of this issue. If you are not able to hike and experience it for yourself, then these pictures are a great way to increase public awareness!

    I had not heard of repeat photography before reading your blog post. When were the pictures that you are recreating taken? Are you planning on editing your photos at all so the coloration is as similar as possible to the past photo, or are you not supposed to edit the photo?

    I hope the weather cooperates when you go on your hike! Keep up the great work.

  3. slfuhrig says:

    Hello Olivia,

    Thank you for your comment! I am afraid that the 2030 prediction for Glacier is fairly solidified. If anything, the glaciers may melt sooner. Dan Fagre, with the USGS, is a leading expert on the park’s glaciers, and he was one of the scientists who created the 2030 prediction. Fagre believes that the fate of Montana’s glaciers is sealed, but is hopeful that if climate change is halted, larger glaciers (like Everest’s) can be saved. I think this absolutist look at Glacier National Park’s glaciers is because of their relatively small size and the drastic impacts of current warming in the park (Glacier’s warming is roughly twice the global average because of its high elevation and insulating cloud cover). On a more positive note, if there are years where snowfall exceeds melting, then the glaciers will remain at the same size or grow slightly, which may increase their lifespan by a year or two. I hope this answers your question.

    Sydney

  4. slfuhrig says:

    lgkohout,

    Thank you for your comment! I have read about the signs at Exit Glacier, and I think it is a great way of raising awareness for glacial shrinkage. The accessibility of repeat photography was one of the things that drew me to it in the beginning. From my research, I have gathered that the main element of repeat photography is matching up landscape features in the shot, as techniques often differ between photographers (some use color while others maintain black and white). I like to think of it as a time-lapse without the photos in the middle. My current plan is to take all of the repeat photos in black and white, adjusting exposure as necessary so that they are as similar to the originals as possible. I am a novice photographer, so my plan is to keep my technique simple. My main focus will be matching up the landscape features and the angles of the original photos as best as I can. Ansel Adams visited the park in 1942 during his Department of Interior mural project. The photos of Grinnell Glacier are somewhat older, with Kiser’s dating to around 1910, and Hileman’s dating to roughly 1931. I hope this answers your question.

    Sydney

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