On June 6, 1912, among the Katmai volcanoes and its resident native people, an unforgettable natural event occurred: the largest volcanic eruption on Earth during the twentieth century. In size comparable to Indonesia's Krakatau in 1883 and Tambora in 1815, one must go back 2,000 years to the north island of New Zealand to find as large a release of rhyolite magma.
The actual eruption took place about 100 miles west of Kodiak in the Aleutian Range on the Alaskan Peninsula. In three days, a new volcano—Novarupta—was born. More than five cubic miles of ash and debris flew into the atmosphere, with heavier deposits filling an adjacent forty-four-square-mile valley in depths up to 1,000 feet. The dense, superheated waves of magmatic spray incinerated all living organisms, leaving a hot bed of igneous material that, when mixed with water from the surrounding glaciers and snowfields, produced tens of thousands of steam vents known as fumaroles. Thus was born the Valley of 10,000 Smokes. Native villages, some thousands of years old, were abandoned and never reestablished.
The eruption was of such consequence that the National Geographic Society sent Robert F. Griggs to direct a four-year expedition to the site. Griggs and his party recorded their scientific expedition in stunning black-and-white photographs and moving text, which led to the publication of a 50-page article in National Geographic Magazine in 1918 and a subsequent book issued by the Society in 1922 that remains available today. Gary Freeburg has traveled to the Valley of 10,000 Smokes five times, from 2000 to 2011, in pursuit of rephotography of the contemporary landscape and the larger experience of wilderness. Although the fumaroles that Griggs so vividly portrays in words and pictures are largely gone, and that element of visual and volcanic activity has largely ceased, in Freeburg's photographs one can still feel the steam-filled air, sense the deafening noise of the eruption, and grasp the incredible physical forces that created this alluring landscape.
Now preserved as part of the 4.7-million-acre Katmai National Park and Preserve, the Valley of 10,000 Smokes continues to inspire—not just esteemed volcanologists such as John Eichelberger and expert cultural anthropologists such as Jeanne Schaaf, but great artists such as Gary Freeburg who seek out the Alaskan sublime, as it is revealed in one of Earth's most remote, raw, and wild places. (See the publisher's website for further information on exhibits, book signings, and to view a slide show: http://gftbooks.com/books_Freeburg.html )
About The Author
The Valley of 10,000 Smokes by Gary Freeburg, photographer, and essays by John Eichelberer and Jeannne M Schaaf is an interesting book of reflections on our planet and the meanings and inspirations we can draw from observing changes in natural environments. Freeburg journeyed to a very remote part of Alaska surrounding Mt. Novarupta, which erupted in the fourth largest volcano every recorded and caused the collapse of Mt. Katmai in June of 1912. Soon after that eruption an expedition went to study the area and photograph it, and as a result President Woodrow Wilson made it Katmai National Park and Preserve. Freeburg and his team returned there a century later to study and photograph the same area, forever changed by the volcano, although some of the terrain still has smoking fumaroles. The black and white photos from a century ago and the color ones which are current make an unusual and informative collection to compare the landscapes. The essays that accompany the photographs are thought provoking and well written.
This horizontal-format book showcases the black-and-white and color landscape photographs of Gary Freeburg, following in the footsteps of National Geographic explorer Robert F. Griggs. Selections from the photographs of Griggs's 1915-19 expeditions to Alaska are shown in the first section and throughout the essay sections of the book. The whole is finely produced by George F. Thompson Publishing. Most of the book is filled with Freeburg's photographs. Each is given a full page with plenty of white space and a facing page carrying small captions. The interspersed essays are by John Eichelberger and Jeanne M. Schaaf and tell the story of the Griggs expeditions, with meditations on the volcanic landscape. Griggs's original four-year exploration of this area was the result of the second-largest volcanic eruption in modern times, comparable only to the explosion of Kratatoa. It resulted in the formation of a new volcano, which drew the interest of the public and the National Geographic Society. The icy, steaming desert Griggs and his team documented in the first decade of the twentieth century, and Freeburg documents in the first decade of the twenty-first, is called the Valley of 10,000 Smokes. The Griggs expeditions' photos are remarkable. Freeburg has the skill to equal them without matching them. His palette of silver grays is similar, but his pictures look up rather than down on these rugged mountains. In the original photographs, steam appears white, and human figures appear black, but both seem equally hazy and temporary. Freeburg offers a more monumental aesthetic. Contrasts between foreground and background, frozen in deep field, converse equally well in black-and-white or color, and all signs of life except the evidence of the photograph are absent.