Keri Cronin, Manufacturing National Park Nature

I'm always pleased when I see the academic books that have grown out of essays I've appreciated, and the sensation is sweeter when the author's a friend. I don't know Keri Cronin all that well, personally, but as another executive member of ALECC, as well as a fellow attendee at several events over the years, she's someone I've come to trust and to like. Her essay in Mosaic from 2006 is one I've assigned more than once to my classes, and it's made such great sense to them (as well as making my teaching easier as a result).

All of which means I've been looking forward for some time to the publication of her 2011 volume from UBC Press entitled Manufacturing National Park Nature: Photography, Ecology, and the Wilderness Industry of Jasper. In sum, it's just as good as I'd hoped, and I'm now dreaming up courses where I can assign it to students!

Basically, Cronin's arguing that the evolving technology of the photograph, and the framing conventions associated with it, have defined our relations with animality and landscape in conventionally understood wilderness settings such as the northern Rocky Mountains. By looking at postcards (including hand-written notes on the back), souvenir photos, related ephemera, and more self-consciously artistic images, Cronin asserts that the tradition embodied in their visual rhetoric (a) governs our relations with places and animals and (b) hides the ways in which these relations are in fact unbalanced power relations. In doing so, she also shows a wonderfully light hand with why we like the pictures we do, and why we're not bad people for having the preferences we do: there's an openness and a humanity to this book, which could so easily have been not much more than hectoring.

It's not perfect, of course, and I for one would have appreciated a tighter connection between the chapters to justify the final one on the "fake nature" of museums and dioramas, but it's a much better read than your typical academic book. I don't know that I'll be giving Manufacturing National Park Nature away for Christmas, but it should be essential reading for anyone with a deep interest in the ecology of photographed places, especially parks.

For ecocritics working on representations of nature either visual or textual, this may prove invaluable: request it for Christmas, I beg of you!


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