Robert B. Decker grew up in Menlo Park, Calif., and at age six started camping with his family at Yosemite National Park. In the summer of 1979, at age 19, he studied under the famous landscape photographer Ansel Adams. Now based in Colorado, Decker recently turned 59 years old, and he’s designed posters of 43 of 60 national parks in the United States.
Adams influenced Decker’s photography and, in turn, his graphic arts.
“He was very serious about his work, but didn’t take himself too seriously. He was fairly entertaining in lectures and classes,” Decker says of Adams. “He also was very technical and intense in terms of calculating lighting and exposure and techniques in the darkroom. It was a combined experience.”
Decker participated in a program Adams conducted annually for aspiring photographers.
“It was an amazing experience that put these things together: photography and national parks,” Decker says. “It solidified my love of photography and made me realize that national parks are the best studios in the world to work in.”
Decker says his main takeaway point from Adams involved anticipating the photograph.
“He always preached the concept of pre-visualization—getting the image in the mind’s eye of what you want the final picture to look like even before loading film,” Decker says. “He had an idea of what his final image was going to look like. It made a lot of sense when he told a story about carrying a 4x5 camera and a heavy wooden tripod into the high country. And he only had four pieces of film.”
Digital cameras changed all that for most photographers. Not Decker.
“Now we can take a thousand pictures on a card, but he taught us to be very conservative with exposures. He taught us to compose a shot rather than just squeeze off the shutter,” says Decker.
Self-employed for more than 30 years, Decker initiated his national parks project five years ago. He intends to create images of all 60 national parks. His oeuvre includes some of the most marvelous landscapes in the region including two regional series: National Parks of the Colorado Plateau and National Parks of the Rocky Mountains.
“I’ve been fortunate to pursue my own passion,” he says. “To be able to get out there and explore and enjoy nature and create art: I feel blessed. I can’t think of a better word.”
Decker’s American-made posters begin with photo shoots in the parks.
“I’m sometimes able to capture a single iconic shot, for example of the Grand Canyon,” he says. “Others parks are more challenging. Olympic National Park has a coastal environment and a rainforest and high peaks so it’s impossible to create one shot to encompass all that. Wind Cave in South Dakota has underground caves and rolling prairies. Sometimes I create a composite image as the final piece.”
Decker edits original photographs and selects images he’ll develop as posters.
“I run the photo through a graphic process developed over the years that makes the posters reminiscent of Workers Progress Administration posters of the 30s and 40s,” he says.
With strong shapes and vibrant colors, the painterly graphic designs harken to yesteryear, but also stand up as clean and contemporary. Timeless.
Decker says, “Most people who buy the posters have been to the park and want something to remind them of their experience, so they are nostalgic that way.”
In keeping with good stewardship of the environment, the artist insists upon the greenest printing standards. He specifies soy-based inks to print his posters and postcards on recycled stock: 80-pound Neenah Conservation, a paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and the Rainforest Alliance.
For his artist’s proofs, Decker pulls the first 25 posters, leaves the pressman’s color bars on the page and signs his limited edition prints.
And as proof of his commitment to national parks, Decker donates ten percent of annual profits and also merchandise to fundraisers benefiting parks.
“We have a $12 billion backlog on infrastructure projects at our national parks, so it’s really important to create the next generation of national park supporters,” he says. “Younger people are not getting to the parks. The average visitor is 55 and white, and we need to get people of all backgrounds and ages into the parks.”
He typically earmarks donations for educational programs. Recently, Decker learned that his contribution funded the complete junior ranger program for 250 school children.
“Kids learn basic things about enjoying national parks and respecting them, staying on trails and learning about nature,” he says. “National parks are so important as places where kids learn about ecosystems and our environment.”
Decker appreciates Colorado’s rich national parks heritage. “We probably have 100 national park service sites within a 10-hour drive, which is my cutoff for flying versus driving. National parks are usually not close to major airports, but DIA is one of the most convenient, with four big national parks nearby,” he says.
“We need to protect open spaces so we have a place to go, a retreat,” says Decker. “As we get older, the parks are places where we can recharge our batteries. I love the fact that most national parks don’t have good cell service, so people have to disconnect from all that. As our world gets more chaotic and hectic, these are places to relax and unwind and get back to nature.”
Printed by one of the greenest printers in America, right here in Colorado, when you buy one of Decker’s posters, you also help the trusts, conservancies and associations that support national parks. Ten percent of annual profits go to these organizations who use them to raise funds for their ongoing work.
Decker’s national park posters cost $35 each and are available for purchase at national-park-posters.com.
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