It’s safe to say Colorado photographer and graphic artist Rob Decker knows a thing or two about America’s national parks. Studying under famed photographer Ansel Adams in Yosemite National Park at age 19 sparked a passion in Decker for the park system, which has inspired his creative work ever since.
After retiring from a 30 year career in the arts as an independent producer, he has launched a mission to design posters of all major protected areas.
To that end, Decker chatted exclusively with Fox News about just why The National Park Poster Project is so important to him, the best national parks and his thoughts on tentatively escalating admission costs throughout one of our greatest national treasures.
FOX NEWS: What inspired this journey of recreating iconic images of every national park?
RD: I’ve been a big fan of the national parks my whole life. I grew up in Northern California and spent a lot of time in Yosemite National Park. The first time, I was just six years old, camping in the valley with my family. Even before this project started, I had visited more than half of America’s national parks.
What was it like to study under Ansel Adams in Yosemite when you were 19?
Studying under Ansel Adams in Yosemite National Park when I was just 19 was an experience that solidified my love of photography and the national parks. I was pretty awe-struck at the time, but as time goes by, I appreciate that experience now even more. There were so many lessons learned, but perhaps most important was the idea of pre-visualization – to create the image in your mind’s eye.
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What inspired you to launch the project?
The inspiration for this project actually started about five years ago when my daughter got married. She found a vintage-style dress and I created the save the date cards, table cards, and even a poster that all the guests could sign. The images were from places around Colorado, and I designed them in this retro, WPA-style. And, although it was my daughter’s special day, I got a lot of encouragement to do something more…
I started working with photographs I had taken of the national parks over the years, and ran three successful Kickstarter crowdfunding campaigns over the next 18 months. The campaigns were so popular, that I decided to leave my day job in the rear-view mirror and focus on The National Park Poster Project full-time.
What exactly are your methods for creating the posters?
Each poster starts with a photograph that I take at each park. I try to capture that iconic view – the Teton Range (Grand Teton National Park), the Delicate Arch (Arches National Park), the Bass Harbor Head Light (Acadia National Park) – one that hopefully represents a visitor’s own experience at the park. The photographic images are then run through a digital process I’ve created that transforms them into graphic art in a style reminiscent of the WPA artists of the 1930s and 40s.
One of the biggest challenges in all of this is creating the text that appears at the top of each poster – crafting a dozen or so words that captures the essence of the park.
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Which national park is your favorite? Why?
Yosemite National Park is by far my favorite national park. My history there goes back well beyond my first visit – my grandparents honeymooned there in the 1920s! In addition to the many camping trips with my family and backpacking with friends, we celebrated my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary there, and my brother was married in the Yosemite Valley Chapel.
Of course, the time spent there with Ansel Adams is at the top of the list!
What’s next for this project? For you as an artist?
My goal has always been to create posters for each of the 60 national parks in the country, and I’m well on my way to reaching that mark, having visited 43, and will probably get to a couple more this year. The big challenge will be the eight national parks in Alaska.
Beyond this, I am looking to create and publish a book of black and white photographs I’ve made in the national parks. That project will really allow me to get back to my roots as a photographer.
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What are your thoughts on the National Park Service tentatively increasing admission fees at select, popular parks in order to fund infrastructure projects?
Clearly there has been a lot of backlash from the proposal to raise rates at some of the most popular national parks, and I believe the National Park Service has tabled that for now. There is no question that we need to do something to help fund the backlog of infrastructure projects and there are a few in Congress who are looking at ways to do this through the federal budget.
One of the things that I have been able to do with this project is to give back, and I donate 10% of annual profits to many organizations that support our national parks.