Much has changed since 2003 when nature photographer Tom Blagden Jr. first chronicled the beauty of Acadia National Park in his book “First Light: Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island.”
His newest offering is “Acadia National Park: A Centennial Celebration,” the official pictorial celebrating the park’s 100th birthday.
The book documents the history, beauty and significance of Acadia National Park, which was created in 1916.
Blagden said that in a lifetime of photographing the park, he has come to see that it is a game-changing world in terms of the park’s popularity and in the realm of photography itself.
The weather also is milder, he noted, as he traveled north from family homes in Connecticut and South Carolina over the past seven years to work on his newest collection.
“In earlier decades in the summer, we had fires in the evening, and we hardly ever do that now,” Blagden said. “And the winters are more volatile in terms of their fluctuations.”
His 224-page, oversized book, produced in association with Friends of Acadia, captures the panoramic as well as the micro beauty of one of the nation’s smallest, yet most popular, national parks.
Acadia encompasses 44,000 acres on two islands as well as the mainland Schoodic Peninsula and draws more than 2.8 million visitors each year.
A large part of Acadia’s beauty is its diversity: granite mountains, filigreed coastlines, unique cultural resources, unprecedented night skies and communities of plant and animal life.
Accompanying the photographs are six essays by writers with deep personal connections to the park: Christopher Crosman, Dayton Duncan, Christopher Camuto, W. Kent Olson, David Rockefeller Jr. and Blagden.
The essays explain the park’s history, the critical role of the founding families in its creation and the past and present importance of private stewardship.
Blagden said the difference in the two periods in which he photographed the park is in visitors’ fascination with Acadia and in the nature of photography itself.
“So much of the challenge ahead is how do you maintain the quality and integrity of the experience, and yet try to have as many people who want to interact with Acadia be able to do so,” he said.
“It’s a tough one. Issues of traffic and buses and cruise ships now and the sheer volume of visitors is huge – 2.7 million last year alone.”
He said some might say a book such as this compounds the problem by illustrating the park’s sheer beauty and diverse topography, wildlife and native growth.
“I’d like to take the position that is serves a higher alternative purpose,” Blagden said. “A book like this doesn’t get into that broad a market. It’s kind of a niche market. The goal of the book is to get it into the right hands of people already devoted to Acadia and connecting to it both educationally and especially philanthropically.”
He noted that a park such as Acadia could not exist without public financial support because the federal funds allocated hardly begin to cover actual operating costs.
Blagden now embraces the electronic age. “’First Light’” was shot on film, and that was really the core of my career,” he said in a telephone interview from Connecticut. “This book was shot entirely in digital.”
The advantage to digital, he said, is that the photographer is never constrained by cost and can shoot image after image.
The disadvantage is that the ability to manipulate a digital image is so facile today that it might create a bit of distrust with the viewer.
“With film, the viewer trusted that the photographer genuinely had the experience that they see in the photo,” said Blagden. “Digital has kind of shaken that trust.”
“But, having said that, I am still operating old school, even with digital. For me, it is about the experience rather than the resulting image.”
Blagden has been visiting Acadia since his childhood, staying with an aunt who had a house on Indian Point in Pretty Marsh. That land has since been donated and conserved for the public’s enjoyment.
Critical to the book’s creation, he said, was the longstanding relationship he has with Friends of Acadia, which published the book with him.
“With these long stretches between books and these long-haul projects, it is very important for me to have that connection with Friends of Acadia,” he said.
Blagden was at a loss as to how many photographs he took.
“You never stop,” he said. “I can’t even answer that because it’s not really that relevant a question. A photographer is committed to a place or theme. You work from image to image, different themes and coverage.
“You might have countless photographs of certain themes and are always trying to better yourself. What is more relevant is how many images go into a book. That varies publisher to publisher.”
He submitted 300 images, and editors at Rizzoli, the book’s publisher, cut them back to 150, which he said was generous.
“It’s kind of torture in a way,” Blagden said. “Time is always the best editor, and not rushing it. I started months and months ahead.”
In culling the photographs, Blagden said he had to detach himself from the experience of taking each photograph and then looking at it objectively.
“I tried to show the extraordinary diversity in Acadia in what is really a tiny park, one of the smallest parks in the whole system,” he said. “Yet it has ocean, fresh water, mountain peaks, lowland bogs, wetlands, different types of forests. That’s the challenge photographically is to create a sense of place around that diversity.”
When asked about his favorite images, he said he particularly liked the photographs that recalled an extraordinary moment, or situation, such as viewing the alewife migration with the fish swimming up freshwater streams, which “then triggers a whole predator and prey scenario.”
“This dramatic scene, in all of its complexity, embodies some of the defining elements of Acadia: its interconnections of land and sea, its dance of predator and prey, its healthy ocean waters and navigable freshwater streams, its looming risk of overfishing and habitat loss,” Blagden wrote in his essay. “These alewives remind us that Acadia National Park, though bounded, is inseparable from the waters that surround it and the human communities within. The web of life casts a wide net.”