Vmail – Meet National Parks Photographer Frank Lee Ruggles


SO FRANK, YOU WERE THE NATIONAL PARKS PHOTOGRAPHER
FOR, FOR QUITE SOME TIME… 150 YEARS. 150 YEARS. THAT’S IMPRESSIVE. VERY IMPRESSIVE. (LAUGHTER) HOW DID YOU COME ABOUT GETTING THAT POSITION? YOU KNOW, IT WAS A FEDERAL POSITION. I HAD TO APPLY FOR IT. IT WAS THE LAST OF A LONG SERIES OF FEDERAL
POSITIONS. I WORKED FOR EVER ADMINISTRATION SINCE REAGAN. SO I WORKED FOR THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE,
AND COMMERCE, AND INTERIOR, AND JUSTICE, AND DID WORK FOR THE FBI. AND THE SECRET SERVICE. AND THEN THE FINAL ASSIGNMENT WAS FOR THE
PARKS SERVICE AS THE EMINENT PHOTOGRAPHER. THAT’S WHAT THEY CALL THE POSITION. AND UH, I’M STILL SURPRISED I GOT IT. (LAUGHTER) BECAUSE I’M A SELF-TAUGHT PHOTOGRAPHER. AND I APPLIED FOR IT NOT, KNOWING I WOULDN’T
GET IT BECAUSE THERE WERE 28,000 OTHER PEOPLE THAT APPLIED FOR THIS JOB. AND I FINISHED
MY TOUR WITH THE PARKS SERVICE IN 2011. IT’S A FIVE-YEAR POSITION. THE PARKS SERVICE DOES IT ONCE EVERY 20 YEARS
OR SO. THEY’LL HIRE A PHOTOGRAPHER TO PHOTOGRAPH
AMERICA AND, AND THEN YOU’RE DONE. BUT AS YOU GUYS KNOW, I NEVER FELT LIKE I
WAS DONE. YOU KNOW, I WAS IN THE MILITARY FOR AWHILE. AND THE ONE THING THEY NEVER TELL YOU WHEN
YOU LEAVE THE MILITARY IS THERE’S A GIANT HOLE IN YOUR LIFE WHERE YOUR SERVICE USED
TO BE. YOU KNOW, SO I GOT OUT AND ONE DAY, HERE I
AM THE GUY WEARING THE WHITE HAT, YOU KNOW AS WE TALKED ABOUT. THE PROTECTOR, YOU KNOW, SERVING MY COUNTRY. AND THE NEXT DAY I’M A LOWLY CIVILIAN LIKE
YOU GUYS. (LAUGHTER) EXACTLY. YES. SO I HAD TO FIND A WAY TO SORT OF CONTINUE. AND I LEFT THE MILITARY FROM A BAD PARACHUTING
ACCIDENT. SO I COULDN’T WALK AROUND AND SHOOT A MACHINE
GUN ANYMORE, BUT I COULD WALK AROUND AND SHOOT PICTURES. SO THAT’S HOW I SORT OF FOUND MY WAY INTO
THE GOVERNMENT TAKING PICTURES. AS, FOR ME, THIS IS A PATRIOTIC THING. YOU KNOW, TAKING PICTURES OF THE NATIONAL
PARKS AND SHARING THEM WITH PEOPLE, USING THEM FOR FUNDRAISERS AND EXHIBITS LIKE THIS,
FOR ME THIS IS A PATRIOTIC THING. THE IDEA OF PRESERVING AMERICA, AND AMERICA’S
TREASURES, MAKES ME FEEL LIKE I’M WEARING THE WHITE HAT AGAIN. TELL US, WHAT DID YOU THINK WHEN TRACY MORSE
CONTACTED YOU AND ASKED YOU TO COME SEE US? I WAS HONORED AND FLATTERED. YOU KNOW, THE VILLAGES IS WORLD-FAMOUS. SO WHEN I SAW THAT EMAIL WITH THE VILLAGES,
I WAS LIKE HOLY CRAP, THEY KNOW WHO I AM. BUT THEN SHE SAID, WELL I WANT YOU TO COME
DOWN AND I WANT YOU TO TAKE A COUPLE OF MY BOYS OUT… (LAUGHS) …ON AN ADVENTURE. AND I WAS LIKE, I DON’T THINK THEY UNDERSTAND
WHAT AN ADVENTURE IS, FRANK-STYLE. LIKE, I HOPE THESE GUYS ARE UP TO THE CHALLENGE. YOU KNOW, BECAUSE, YOU KNOW, YOU’RE GOING
TO BE WALKING THROUGH THE SWAMPS WAIST-DEEP IN WATER WITH THE SNAKES AND GATORS AND MOSQUITOS
AS BIG AS YOUR HEAD. AND YOU KNOW, I WAS LIKE I HOPE THESE GUYS
ARE READY FOR THIS BECAUSE I’M NOT GOING TO HOLD BACK. IT WAS, PRETTY FANTASTIC. UH, I MEAN, FIRST DAY WHEN WE FIRST GOT THERE,
I MEAN, WE, NO TRAIL STRAIGHT THROUGH THE SWAMP AND EVERYTHING. I MEAN IT WAS PRETTY MEMORABLE. YOU KNOW, I’M NOT A PHOTOGRAPHER. I’M IN THE DESIGN BUSINESS. WHEN YOU GO TO ARCHITECTURE SCHOOL, MOST OF
US HAVE AN INTEREST IN PHOTOGRAPHY BUT ONLY FOR DOCUMENTING BUILDINGS AND SPACES. AND HANGING OUT WITH YOU TWO, WHO ARE PROFESSIONAL
PHOTOGRAPHERS, IT GAVE ME A DIFFERENT OUTLOOK OF WHAT PHOTOGRAPHY IS. I’LL NEVER LOOK AT A SUNSET AGAIN THE SAME
WAY. I’LL NEVER LOOK AT A GRASSHOPPER STANDING
ON A SIGN. YOU KNOW, SOMETHING AS SIMPLE AS THAT OR A
SPIDERWEB. YOU KNOW, AND HOW YOU FOLKS SEE THINGS AND
COMPOSE THEM AND TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE LIGHT. SO BRIAN, YOU’RE NORMALLY BEHIND THE CAMERA. YEAH. VIDEOTAPING US. OR TAKING PICTURES OF OUR COMMUNITY. USUALLY, YOU KNOW, I’LL BE ON THE OTHER SIDE
OF THE CAMERA SHOOTING WEDDINGS, OR PEOPLE DANCING ON THE SQUARE OR STUFF LIKE THAT,
VILLAGES ACTIVITIES, VILLAGES CONSTRUCTION UPDATES AND DIFFERENT THINGS LIKE THAT. SO BEING ON THIS SIDE OF THE CAMERA IS, AGAIN,
OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE, IN A GOOD WAY. YOU’RE DOING GREAT. IT’S A LITTLE WARM IN HERE. UH, BUT YEAH. BRIAN AND I REALLY CONNECTED OUT THERE, UNDER
THE IDEA THAT, EVERY TIME YOU TAKE A PICTURE IT’S HISTORY. AND IT MAY NOT BE HISTORY JUST NOW, BUT A
LIFETIME FROM NOW ANY ONE OF THOSE PICTURES CAN BE CONSIDERED HISTORIC. THERE’S SO MUCH POWER IN A PHOTOGRAPH THAT
EVERY TIME YOU SNAP THE SHUTTER, YOU KNOW, THERE’S THE POTENTIAL TO FREEZE A MOMENT OF
HISTORY THAT COULD BE OF VALUE, NOT JUST TO YOURSELF BUT TO OTHER PEOPLE WAY DOWN THE
LINE. AT THE END OF THE DAY, WE NOT ONLY HAD AN
ADVENTURE, BUT OUR ADVENTURE EXPANDS BEYOND WHAT WE JUST EXPERIENCED BECAUSE OF THE PHOTOS
THAT WE TOOK. SO NOW SOME OF THOSE PHOTOS WE TOOK ON THAT
ADVENTURE ARE GOING TO BE HANGING IN THIS BUILDING. YOU KNOW, THOSE MOMENTS THAT ARE JUST THE
60TH OF A SECOND OF TIME, ARE FROZEN FOREVER AND WE STRETCHED THAT FRACTION OF A SECOND
OUT INTO YEARS AND YEARS INTO DECADES FOR PEOPLE TO EXPERIENCE WHAT WE HAD TO EXPERIENCE. AND THAT’S THE MAGIC OF PHOTOGRAPHY. YOU CAN BRING PEOPLE, WE’RE NOT, I DIDN’T
BRING TWO PEOPLE ON THAT TRIP, I BROUGHT TEN THOUSAND PEOPLE ON THAT TRIP. THROUGH THE PHOTOGRAPHY. AND BECAUSE IT’S GOING TO BE DISPLAYED IN
SUCH A BEAUTIFUL PLACE LIKE THIS, IT’S GOING TO MAKE IT ALL MORE SPECIAL.

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