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For nearly three years, Club Members Ren and Helen Davis dedicated their time toward researching a man they admired: George Alexander Grant, the first staff photographer for the National Park Service. The culmination of their research was more than just the publication of an award-winning book, Landscapes for the People: George Alexander Grant, First Chief Photographer of the National Park Service, it was a journey of a lifetime.
In 2016, the Davises traveled more than 25,000 miles to share Grant’s story. “While the traveling was at times challenging, as we were on the road for more than 100 days in 2016, we thoroughly enjoyed introducing Grant and his work to hundreds of park staff and visitors who may have seen his work in books, magazines and museum exhibits but never knew his name,” Ren says. “As the NPS staff photographer, Grant’s images were the property of the park service, and in most instances his published photographs were credited simply, ‘National Park Service.’”
Club Traveler got a chance to catch up with the busy couple to learn more about their passion for photography, history and travel. We learned that they’ll be back at it again in September, but not without a little rest time spent at their Home Resort — Sunrise Lodge, a Hilton Grand Vacations Club. After presentations in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, the Davises will head west and spend a few vacation days at Sunrise while preparing for their next talks at Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks.
After staying at Sunrise Lodge, a Hilton Grand Vacations Club, Helen and Ren Davis ventured to Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks as part of the research for their book. Above is an image from Sunset Point in Capitol Reef National Park taken by Ren Davis.
We asked the Davises to share a few highlights from their recent travels, and here’s what they had to say:
Club Traveler (CT): While touring, what was your favorite spot that you visited and why?
Helen Davis and Ren Davis (HD & RD): Among the destinations where we have spoken, one of our favorites was the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. The panoramic scenery is spectacular, and due to its more remote location, the North Rim receives only about 10 percent of the visitors compared to those that travel to the South Rim.
CT: Which photo of Grant’s is your favorite and why?
RD: We have two different favorites. Helen’s is Grant’s image “Sand Dunes Near Stovepipe Wells,” taken in Death Valley National Park in 1935. In 1937, he entered the image (below) in the inaugural New York Explorers Club photography competition. It was selected as the first-place winner from 300 entries, including a photograph by Ansel Adams.
Photo by George Grant, National Park Service.
My favorite is the image from the cover of the book — tourists enjoying a spectacular view of Mount Rainier from Ricksecker Point near Paradise in 1932 (below). It is a timeless landscape, and a snapshot in time with the people and the automobile to communicate to the viewer, “You could be here, too!” Much of Grant’s work was in support of President Franklin Roosevelt’s promotion of visitation to the national parks.
Photo by George Grant, National Park Service.
CT:What’s been the best part of this experience?
HD & RD: Each stage of the process had its enjoyable aspects. Much of our research was conducted in the National Park Service Historic Photograph Collection in Charles Town, West Virginia. We made six trips to the archives over a 2½-year period, viewing more than 3,000 of Grant’s images and scanning about 700, of which more than 170 were chosen for the book. We worked from contact prints in park folders, many of which had not been viewed in years.
CT: What was your biggest surprise while traveling?
HD & RD: Perhaps the most pleasant surprise from the experience was having the opportunity to meet and interview each of George Grant’s three nieces, his closest living relatives, who are currently 81, 87 and 90, and grandniece. They live in the Eastern Shore of Maryland and in Dover, Delaware. Shortly after the book’s release, we were invited to be authors in residence at Salisbury University, close to their homes. There we were able to give a presentation and present each niece with an inscribed copy of the book.
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**The photo featured at the top of this article is of the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, which was the Davises favorite destination while touring their book, Landscapes for People.
**BOOK TITLE: Landscapes for the People: George Alexander Grant, First Chief Photographer of the National Park Service by Render and Helen Davis.
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