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How are Joe Elliott's students contributing to national parks?

Joseph Elliott, professor of art at Muhlenberg College, has spent countless days touring America’s national parks, both as a visitor and as a working photographer. He’s worked in several parks throughout his career, from Bandelier to Grand Teton, using his skills as an architectural photographer to document the condition of park features as time passes. Recently, however, he was approached for a different sort of project — one that would ask his Intermediate Photography students to look at a historical landmark through a contextual lens.

While he was working on a project at Independence National Historic Park in Philadelphia, a park service representative spoke to Elliott about a need for visually distinctive photographs, in part to attract the eyes of younger visitors.

Elliott saw an opportunity to challenge both his students’ perspectives of a national park and their ideas about what photography of a historical monument could look like. He invited five of his photography students to document Independence Hall and the surrounding park. The students were encouraged to look beyond historical landmarks and to see how visitors and park staff used the space and interacted with each other in specific locations.

“There is an entire culture represented in the National Park Service,” says Elliott. “Beyond the park rangers that everyone knows about, the NPS employs archeologists, historians, ecologists, and architects. The park service will find its next generation of employees in the ranks of young graduates from schools like Muhlenberg.”

Elliott's students have submitted photos to park representatives for use on the park website. The collaboration has potential — if the students supply fresh perspectives, the possibility for a future collaboration through additional photo assignments or summer internships could mean even more images to entice future park visitors.

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