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Photographer Gary Ladd Speaks of Ancient Rock, Time and Place

December 18
14:49 2013

The framing of ancient rock formations speaks of time and place in a way that Page, Arizona photographer Gary Ladd aptly calls Time Sculpture: The Eloquence of Stone. Ladd’s recent photographic publication represents 42 years of personal immersion into the elements that have shaped three National Parks: Grand Canyon, Vermilion Cliffs, and Glen Canyon.  Combine photography as art with ancient rocks and you have eloquence of stone.

I try to see the world not for what it is or what it represents but just for how it appears through the camera’s window.  This is not so easy.

Gary Ladd’s Calling

Gary Ladd on Colorado RiverCombining words with photography to describe these massively carved cliffs and the river that runs through them is clearly Ladd’s calling. While in the presence of Gary Ladd one senses the presence of a man who has a deep connection with the elements that sculpt the world as we know it. He speaks of geology and astronomy, of events both massive and small that shaped the earth over time.

This area of Northern Arizona is majestic.  There is a feeling of the passage of time. You can hike in the rainbow bridge area and find hogans and split houses that the Navajo people left 50 or 60 years ago. Yet, the initial hole of Rainbow Bridge was cut around 40-50,000 years ago.

Ladd takes the time table back to eras that are beyond comprehension – from Dinosaur tracks two hundred million years ago — to rocks in the Grand Canyon merely 270 million years ago. And these are the youngest rocks.  The oldest? 1.84 billion years.

All of this is available right here – all these layers of time. This is an incredibly beautiful place that has been largely left alone. We haven’t ripped it up like other places in the world.

The Geologic Time Table

Gary Ladd Grand Canyon ExplorationHis fascination with the geologic time table of the Colorado River canyons brought Ladd to investigate the events that shaped them. He explains that many changes in the earth were caused by small changes over time. An exception to this was a crash landing of an asteroid 6 miles in diameter that hit the Yucatan of Mexico.  The energy released from the impact was 6 billion times more than the atomic bomb over Hiroshima. This sudden event changed the entire biosphere of the planet — wiping out about 70% of the species on earth.  Within hundreds of thousands of years it was an entirely new planet.

I have heard rocks falling and seen clouds of dust, but the rocks themselves aren’t usually that big. One exception was a on a houseboat trip in Lake Powell. All of the sudden a cliff nearby suddenly began sliding down into the lake. It was about 20 feet wide and 50 feet high and 10 feet thick and just slid down. We were expecting a big wave, but since it slipped straight down into the water, there was hardly a disturbance.”

Ladd’s Personal Time Table

Gary Ladd’s personal time table was carved by major events in his own life. Gary says that he was always interested in photography but he went really crazy photographing caves when he fell in with a group of spelunkers in college. His interest changed from caves to canyons after his first river trip into the Grand Canyon. From that adventure, he was inspired to  buy a dory and became a river runner.  In addition to the Grand Canyon, he ran Desolation Canyon, the Green River, the San Juan and more. Gary Ladd Glen CanyonNow, some 32 years later, Ladd has spent at least 460 days on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.  Add numerous workshops with the Arizona Highways, geology research and backpacking trips, and you’ve got a man who has spent over a year on the river in Grand Canyon, a year and a half on the trails of Grand Canyon and many months on the slickrock routes that surround Lake Powell.

Once just for the heck of it,  I hiked from the South Rim to the North Rim and back in one day.

Apparently this one day trip prepped him for the job of Diamond River Adventures trail guide; where, in 2008, he helped people make their way down the Bright Angel Trail to join a Diamond river trip and “exchanged” those people for others who had just stepped off an upper half river trip, accompanying them back up to the rim. Back in 1972, Ladd became interested in stars and space when a job as camera technician for Kitt Peak Observatory outside of Tucson brought him into contact with astronomers. Later at Mt. Hopkins, Ladd became a research assistant and was given the opportunity to observe by himself on a 60-inch telescope. When his photograph of a lighting storm over the Kitt Peak observatory was published in Life Magazine, Ladd’s photography career kicked off. For 40 years after that, he was a regular contributor to Arizona Highways.

I was lucky to have had the opportunity to do Arizona Highways workshops in the Grand Canyon as well as Geology research trips.

Life in Page, Arizona

Gary Ladd PhotoIn 1981, after years of commuting from Tucson to the Kaibab Plateau, Ladd decided to move to Page. The Grand Canyon, Lake Powell and Vermillion Cliffs dominated his interests.  In addition to his book publications, Ladd began guiding houseboat adventures on Lake Powell for the Glen Canyon Natural History Association‘s educational program, the Glen Canyon Field School.  He also lectures occasionally the topics of  astronomy at the Powell Museum.

What sane person would settle for a single visit to Grand Canyon? It’s the same for Lake Powell. — Gary Ladd

Upcoming Projects

In addition to his Arizona Highways publications, National Geographic Books, Newsweek, and Modern Photography, Gary Ladd has self-published five books, plus ten more with various publishers; including Stephens Press and Grand Canyon Association.

Book projects usually eat up a lot of time, energy, and money, so I’ll do a book but by the time I’m finished with it, I say “Boy I hope I never do that again,” but after a few months or a year I forget and start working on another project.

No sooner had he finished Time Sculpture: The Eloquence of Stone, when Ladd began working on a new book How to Take Pictures on the Rim to be published by the Grand Canyon Association. While projects abound, Ladd notices one small, insignificant change in his personal time table: “I can’t hike from the South Rim to the North Rim and back in the same day anymore.” Time Sculpture: The Eloquence of Stone is available at numerous interpretive bookstores and online book sellers; or from Ladd himself. If you miss Gary Ladd at one of Page’s local diners, you can order his autographed books Page, Arizona: Hub of the Visual Universe and Lake Powell: A Photographic Essay of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area on his website.

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