For two weeks’ worth of days spread over more than decade, landscape photographer Ian Shive braved sandstorms, a flash flood sweeping through his camp and blistering desert heat to pursue an image of White Sands that captured the light and palette of New Mexico loved by many and immortalized in Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings.
“It’s not really a technical achievement—it’s a mental achievement,” he says of a career spent waiting out storms and chasing their perfect conditions for a photograph.
The resulting homage of the white dunes catches them in near black-and-white relief, a skim of sand blowing off the surface mottling a bluebird horizon. It now hangs in Edition One Gallery, one of 20 images selected for the artist’s first solo exhibition, Wilderness and the National Parks, a chance to show the landscapes he makes just for the love of it.
“You always want people to think and care, but I don’t have to go and overtly signal that connection,” he says. “Artistically, you can have a moment and let that be a little more subtle, and that’s what the show is.”
Shive’s work often aligns itself with conservation-minded projects or work documenting our nation’s iconic wild places, as done in his latest book, The National Parks: An American Legacy.
He hopes these landscapes, devoid of people and almost surreally serene, will slow down the double-tap-and-scroll-on approach.
“There’s sort of a permanence, or at least a longer connection, with these places and I think that’s kind of neat in the digital age,” he says. “It’s not really my thing to say, ‘What’s going to get us the most followers?’ but, ‘What’s the thing people are going to connect with the most?’”
His career has taken him to all 50 states, capturing images of national parks, wilderness areas and national monuments. Those images illustrate what’s at stake in nonprofit-run calls to action.
“It’s to try to educate and inspire people to feel a connection to the place so that when they see these organizations they might support, they better understand what they have to lose,” he says. “I don’t think people care about losing something they might not relate to.”
He worked in the last year on the campaign to expand the protected area around the Grand Canyon, which has been threatened with development (including potential uranium mines, proposed mega-malls and a restaurant at the bottom of the canyon accessed by aerial tram). That hasn’t seen action from the president yet, but Obama did move to expand the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, a geographic area Shive continues to work on and document. He works from the perspective of increasing understanding of these Pacific islands—which are farther away from Hawaii than Missoula, Montana, is from Los Angeles. Much of that work has centered around Midway Atoll, located within the monument, which was the site of the World War II turning point naval Battle of Midway, which marks is 75th anniversary this coming June.
“It’s a remarkably beautiful despite wars and bombs and battles and everything else we throw at it,” Shive says. “It’s an incredible place, which I think is sort of a symbol for the resiliency of our planet in many ways.”
That island is also plagued by a problem that started in so many of our homes: plastic trash that works its way to the ocean, where it fills the stomachs of seabirds and washes ashore.
While Obama has used his last weeks in office to preserve more land, recently designating the Bears Ears and Gold Butte national monuments to protect lands in Utah and Nevada that hold Native American archaeological and ancestral sites, the incoming administration is, at best, described as a wild card in the conservation category. But despite that transition, Shive’s position remains steady.
“The work we do continues to be important, regardless of who’s in office,” he says. “It’s important to educate, inform, analyze, understand the science—I think that doesn’t change. … We all have to wait and see, but based on all indications and all signs of what we do know, it’s just going to further galvanize our mission and the importance of continuing to educate people as much as we possibly can about places and issues.”
Wilderness and the National Parks
Through Feb. 3.
Edition One Gallery,
1036 Canyon Road,
The Enthusiast is a twice-monthly column dedicated to the people in and stories from our outdoor sports community. Send feedback and story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.