Chris, Campground Ranger, Tuolumne Meadows Campground
Though passionate about the outdoors, photographer Michael Matthew Woodlee’s interest in national parks lies specifically in the people who inhabit them. His series Yos-e-mite features the workers and volunteers that study and maintain the park. They form their own communities within the spaces, comprising a distinctly human element of the vast natural expanse. He explores how the “Yosemites” shape the culture of the park and how, in turn, the park shapes them. Chris, Campground Ranger, Tuolumne Meadows Campground points an intimate lens toward one such Yosemite worker. Chris, the ranger, stares out from his post at a campsite and fills the center of the photograph. The close framing excludes reference to the famous landscape, which must surround him. By centering Chris’s gaze and cropping the photograph close to his subject, Woodlee puts the viewer in conversation with Chris, asking us to come to know this member of the park community and recognize the integral presence of people, particularly campers, in the park. Crossing his arms over the windowsill and gazing toward the camera, Chris seems to address the viewer with a soft smile. Taken in 2015, this photograph is a testament to contemporary park culture and an increasing awareness of the communities that interact with the park. By contrast, earlier representations of Yosemite, like those of the Hudson River School artists, foregrounded the purity and autonomy of the ‘wilderness’ that would become the national park. Still, Chris dons a traditional camp ranger uniform with the “Eisner” hat adopted in 1912 and NPS arrowhead logo made official in 1950, invoking the nostalgia that accompanies notions of the parks.