NPS Eminent Photographers

In the early 2000s former National Park Service (NPS) History Collection photo archivist Tom DuRant used the title "eminent photographer" to describe people who created a large body of work documenting national parks, the NPS, and the cultural and natural resources found throughout the National Park System. DuRant originally identified 10 photographers who were largely uncredited when their photographs were used in books, papers, and movies. The images were often published under the credit lines "National Park Service Photograph," "Courtesy of the National Park Service," or simply "NPS Photo."

A man on horseback
NPS chief photographer George A. Grant on horseback with equipment at Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, 1933. (NPS History Collection photo, HPC-000853)

DuRant's 10 eminent photographers were:

  • Jack E. Boucher
  • Arno B. Cammerer
  • Richard Frear
  • George A. Grant
  • William Keller
  • Fred E. Mang, Jr.
  • Henry G. Peabody
  • Abbie Rowe
  • Cecil W. Stoughton
  • M. Woodbridge "Woody" Williams

Although the list included NPS chief photographers, it wasn't limited to those who served in that position. Over time, DuRant's list has led to questions and confusion. If intended to reflect anyone with a large body of national park photographs, it is incomplete at best. If considering only NPS employees (as suggested by his reference to the photo credit lines), then Peabody shouldn't be included as he never worked for the NPS. It seems likely that DuRant included him because the NPS History Collection has a collection of Peabody’s work.

Although the title "eminent photographer" was only honorary (and unofficial), it captured imaginations and became popular. Unfortunately, no information has been found to document DuRant's criteria for developing his list. In addition, there was no process to review or add to the list after DuRant retired in 2007.

To address these concerns, the NPS History Collection has updated DuRant's original concept, clarifying the designation and creating a process to update the list. The criteria used to determine "NPS Eminent Photographers" are:

  • they were NPS employees
  • they produced a large body of photographs over many years
  • their work documents multiple NPS units
  • the artistic or technical quality of their work is high
  • their photographs are in the public domain

Limiting use of the title to NPS employees necessarily excludes volunteers, contractors, and other individuals closely associated with, but not directly employed by, the NPS. Although temporary NPS employees would be eligible for the title, the nature of their appointments makes it's unlikely that they would meet all criteria. Artistic merit is an admittedly subjective criterion but one which can often be determined by broader professional or public acclaim. Partly thanks to DuRant, the names of NPS photographers are more frequently cited when the images are published and, therefore, that criterion is no longer valid. Implicit in DuRant's list of eminent photographers is the fact that the photographers' work was represented in the NPS History Collection. The new interpretation of the "NPS Eminent Photographer" title does not require that, as the emphasis should be on the work, not the repository. In many cases, an NPS eminent photographer's images may also be found in park museum collections, the National Archives, Library of Congress, or other institutions.

Today's NPS Eminent Photographers

Based on the revised criteria, the NPS History Collection has created an updated list of "NPS Eminent Photographers." Peabody was removed because, as noted above, he was not an NPS employee. Although Cammerer was an NPS assistant director, his photographic body of work doesn't rise to the level of the others and, therefore, he has also been removed from the list.

As of June 2023, the honorific "NPS Emininent Photographer" is given to the following:

Rock formations against a blue sky with wispy white clounds
Bryce Canyon National Park, ca. 1990s. (NPS History Collection by Thomas C. Gray)
  • Jack E. Boucher (September 4, 1931 – September 2, 2012)
  • Joseph S. Dixon (March 5, 1884 – June 23, 1952)
  • Natt N. Dodge (August 23, 1900 – December 12, 1982)
  • Richard Frear
  • Herbert W. Gleason (June 5, 1855 – October 4, 1937)
  • George A. Grant (March 4, 1891 – October 11, 1964)
  • Thomas C. Gray
  • William S. Keller
  • Fred E. Mang, Jr. (February 20, 1924 – July 29, 2021)
  • Abbie Rowe (August 23, 1905 – April 17, 1967)
  • Steven C. Ruth
  • Cecil W. Stoughton (January 18, 1920 – November 3, 2008)
  • M. Woodbridge "Woody" Williams (June 6, 1917 – May 5, 2012)

This list may be updated over time as new photographers or significant bodies of work are identified or created. To suggest additional NPS Eminent Photographers, particularly women or people of color, contact the NPS History Collection archivist.

Last updated: February 22, 2024