New Hampshire's Hidden Places
Nature photographer Jerry Monkman has been disappearing for a living since 2000, capturing New England's most pristine patches of wilderness for various conservation organizations and his own series of workshops and coffee table books.
Yes, even in a state where mini golf and outlet stores creep on the outskirts of the most popular natural preserves, there remain unblemished places conducive to manufacturing spiritual moments – provided that your cell phone is at least on buzz mode.
"Finding solitude is a huge part of the equation for me," says Jerry Monkman, recent author of "The AMC Guide to Digital Outdoor Photography." "My business is all about building awareness and support for the wildest places in New England. The idea of being alone in nature dates at least as far back as Henry David Thoreau and continues on through John Muir and the giant redwoods."
"It's part of human nature and the American myth to believe there is a frontier, a wilderness to escape and remake yourself as you face the ever-changing challenges of the real world. Americans invented the conservation ethic and the idea that the earth is not a finite place."
70 Million Nature Photos
If you ever mailed a first-class letter to Canada or Mexico back in 2008, you may have seen Monkman's work immortalized on a 72-cent U.S. postage stamp (prices have since risen to 85 cents). The commemorative issue, part of the Scenic American Landscapes series, celebrated the purple hues of the sunrise over the 13 Mile Woods and Androscoggin River in the town of Errol.
The picture was reproduced 70 million times and Monkman has a box stuffed with USPS mugs, first-day covers and T-shirts to remember the time when the Berlin Marching Band trumpeted his work along with almost the entire population of Errol.
"Jerry is always willing to go the extra mile – both literally and figuratively – to get the perfect photo," says Joyce El Kouarti, communications director for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. "He's been known to take multiple trips to the site to scout it out ahead of time, identify items of interest and figure out where and when the light will hit at just the right angle."
"Then he'll return a few days later at dawn to capture the mist rising off the lake, or during late afternoon to catch the shadows playing across the mountains, highlighting the depth and drama of the landscape," she adds. "His images tell the story of why this land is unique and worthy of protection."
The Forest Society just hired Eco Photography during its recent successful campaign to purchase 5,800 acres of woodlands surrounding the historic Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in Dixville Notch – the community best known for voting first in the New Hampshire Primary. The new wildlife preserve blocks plans by Northern Pass (a joint venture of Northeast Utilities, PSNH and Hydro-Quebec) to cut across the protected land for its planned 180 miles of high-voltage towers extending from Canada to the United States.
"Coos County has a more remote feel than the rest of the state," Monkman says. "I like the quiet feeling up there. It makes me think about what New Hampshire must have been like 150 years ago – a much more rugged place where you had to deal with nature on nature's terms."
Capturing the Colors
Some of Monkman's photos look like God went crazy with the Crayolas, such as his purple cotton candy-like clouds hovering over the Nash Stream Forest below Sugarloaf Mountain or the layered royal blue and midnight blue ridges of the White Mountains' Presidential Range viewed from the top of Mount Monroe.
Those palettes are the rewards of patience – purples if you're willing to be up an hour before sunrise and cascading blues if you're willing to hike down in the dark or stay put till the morning.
Color is intertwined with Monkman family memories, says Marcy, who accompanied her husband on every photo assignment before their daughter Acadia, 11, and son Quinn, 8, were born.
"We used to always climb mountains in the night, to be at the top for sunrise. One morning we watched the sunrise from Mt. Madison and there was fog underneath us, and red foliage on the mountain, it was so beautiful that it didn't seem real," she says.
"We have many of Jerry's photos decorating our home. We switch them out occasionally to keep it fresh. I absolutely love the way I feel instantly peaceful when I look at his photos, as if I'm standing in the middle of nature, unencumbered by the chaos that usually surrounds me."
When light is more scarce, such as deep within a forest canopy, Monkman recommends using a polarizing filter to truly capture the saturation of greens and browns. One of his favorite haunts is the Bowl, a 500-acre patch of old growth forest smack in the middle of the Sandwich Range Wilderness Area near Albany (see page 53).
"If you're not looking for it, you won't notice it," he says. "Most of these trees are 200-250 years old and have never been cut – there isn't much of this land left in New Hampshire. When I'm in the Bowl, I like to wander a little bit off the trail and feel like I'm getting lost."
Monkman uses his polarizing filter to reduce glare from water and reveal the sandy bottom of such spots.
No Need to Get Lost
From a photography perspective, it's not always necessary to hike or canoe for miles to a "secret" spot to capture a bit of nature's mystique. Monkman likes to frequent the stone breakwater at Rye Harbor off Route 1A (see page 50), almost within smelling distance of the fried food stands on Hampton Beach.
"I shoot the ocean about a half hour before the sun comes up and with a long exposure (2 minutes), the crashing waves get blurred into a misty look," he says.
Rye and the rest of New Hampshire's tiny coastline is getting a lot of shuttertime in Monkman's latest project, minimally titled "0630." Since mid-November, he has poked his head outside every day at 6:30 a.m. in an effort to document how the light changes and evolves over one year.
"It forces me to get outside when I might not feel like it. I'm finding that if I put my mind to it, I can get some really fascinating images," he says. "As a photographer, your eye is constantly retraining itself to see things in new ways. I'm not sure what this project will turn into yet. I'm letting it take me where it wants to go."
Sugarloaf Mountain/Nash Stream State Forest
Rye Harbor State Park/Seacoast Area
Huntington Falls/Dixville Notch State Park
The Bowl/Sandwich Range Wilderness Area
Lower Falls/Ammonoosuc River White Mountains
From Mt. Monroe/Appalachian Trail