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Spectacular Yosemite

Author : Stuart Booth
Published : 2011-01-18

As big and expansive as Yosemite National Park is, there should be a rule somewhere stating that any book that captures its wonders in photographs must be large enough to take up most of your coffee table.

And Spectacular Yosemite, which showcases the keen eye and tenacious approach wielded by QT Luong and the words of Stuart Booth, does just that, measuring roughly 16-and-a-half inches by 11-and-a-half inches.

Spend any time in Yosemite and you'll understand why such a large format is needed, almost mandatory, to truly capture the park in all its moods and seasons and vistas.

Fittingly, the front cover of this new book shows a snow-covered Yosemite Valley (with a cloud-shrouded Merced River corridor) shortly before sunset, while the back cover displays Half Dome in the golden glow of late afternoon.

Though Yosemite embraces more than 750,000 acres, Spectacular Yosemite is cleaved into just three chapters: The Yosemite Valley, The Merced River and the South, and The Tuloumne River and the North. But those chapters overflow with photos, words, and even some maps to help you gain a feel for the landscape.

Mr. Luong comes to his task from a somewhat unusual background. He was born in France, to Vietnamese parents, and originally trained as a scientist and worked in the fields of Artificial Intelligence and Image Processing. But in the mid-1980s his life took a change of course as he spent time as a climber, and then a mountain guide, in the Alps. His interest in photography seemed a logical way to "communicate to people who weren't there the wonders I had seen on the high peaks of the Alps."

Then, in the 1990s, he came to California where, "inspired by the rich tradition of American landscape photography, I learned to use the large format camera." With Yosemite nearby, he quickly fell in love not just with that national park, but the entire National Park System.

By 2002 he had completed a major accomplishment: photographing landscapes in all 58 national parks with a large format camera. It was no small achievement, and it was noted by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan in their celebratory documentary of the National Park System, The National Parks, America's Best Idea.

In compiling the images that went into Spectacular Yosemite, Mr. Luong often hefted his pack onto his back to safely hold his 5x7 camera and its related accessories as he ventured into the backcountry.

The results are breathtaking, from the wispy creek at the foot of Bridalveil Falls and a frothy gorge in the Upper Merced River Canyon to such staples as Nevada Fall with Liberty Cap in the background as well as shots of Vernal Fall, both in winter when its coated in rime, and in summer when green mosses contrast the dark grey and black rocks.

Mr. Luong's photography explores the park in all seasons. One winter shot captures a nearly snow-covered Mariposa Grove Museum seemingly in miniature beneath towering sequoias, another the Tuolumne Meadows under a light cover of snow at sunset.

There are fall shots of the Merced River near Sentinel Bridge reflecting not just Half Dome but trees in golden hues, an elm tree captured in all four seasons, a carpet of lupines coming to bloom on a pine-duff-covered forest floor, and a spring shot crammed with manzanita and lupine blooms.

And, of course, there are waterfalls and rivers. Waterwheel Falls, Wapama Falls, LeConte Falls, Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, Yosemite Fall and more.

His patience to get "just that shot" produces images such as a spectral setting of pines and glacial erratics under purplish storm clouds at dusk, climbers on the face of El Capitan, pouncing coyotes, bears climbing trees, and curious marmots.

Though the great majority of images are of mountains, meadows, waterfalls, and streams. architecture also found its way into the book, as Mr. Luong trained his cameras on the Ahwahnee Hotel, the Yosemite Chapel, and the LeConte Memorial Lodge, among other structures found in the park.

To these photographs Mr. Booth provides narrative that fleshes out Yosemite, describing its geology, climate, ecosystems, and history. And he gets right to the point in underscoring what those photographs show off.

More glowing adjectives have been associated with Yosemite National Park than with any other scenic locale in the United States. Yet, however excessive the hyperbole can sometimes seem to be, once any visitor enters the Park via the Portal Route and turns the corner coming out of the rocky archway to see Yosemite Valley -- only a small part of the Park, but one that attracts most of the gushing words -- there is the immediate realization that all of the seeming exaggeration is actually understated. For many, Yosemite Valley is quite simply the single most dramatic natural location in the world.


Kurt we could not agree with you more, but where do we put the photography books on Acadia, Arches, Big Bend, Biscayne, Bryce and the Grand Canyons, Canyonlands, Capital Reef, Carlsbad, Crater Lake, (skip Death Valley - too HOT!), Denali, Dry Tortugas, Everglades (a VERY BIG coffee table), Glacier, Glacier Bay, Grand Tetons, Great Basin, Sand Dunes and Smokey Mountains, and....- you of all people get the picture.  From Acadia to Yellowstone or Bryce to Zion, our homes would have to be filled with coffee tables to appreciate the beauty of America's National Parks.  I suggest we start with yours, filling first the living room, then parts of the kitchen, through to a dining room. Certainly you have a basement will hold a few dozen.  You could achieve your own goal - come on Kurt - we all waiting for you in Wyoming (a place that deserves several dozen coffee tables of its own) dare you.  

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