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Student Spotlight Westphal Photography Program Heads West By Paul Runyon, Associate Professor and Program Director of Photography
Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts and Design

Paul Runyon, Associate Professor and Program Director of Photography, led six students on a field trip as part of the Western Landscape photography course over the Spring term break. The class, which has been taking place since 1999, offers students the chance to experience the landscapes of the Southwestern United States. It was originally developed by Professor Runyon while Dr. Dave Jones was his department head. Dr. Jones was one of the few people also familiar with the areas that Runyon has visited for over 20 years. After working out the logistics, the two came up with a plan which has led to 12 offerings of the Western Landscape photography course. In addition to having spectacular landscape to photograph, the students learn firsthand about industrial tourism, land use, geology and the politics of water in the west.

The class spent 11 days on the road with Professor Runyon traversing over 2400 miles to some of the most remote areas in the lower 48 states. Some destinations were so remote that the only way to see them was to hike 3-5 miles a day while carrying the equipment required to photograph. Rising before sunrise to capture the early morning light and working until after sunset meant long but productive days. The group traveled to multiple national parks and recreational areas in three different states, which offered the students a lesson in land use and a glimpse into the how the National Park Service manages the assets entrusted to it.

The first stop on the trip was Lake Mead and Hoover dam where the students witnessed the water crisis that faces the western part of the country. They photographed the lake and its surrounding shoreline, which is currently experiencing a drought of historic proportions. The next day the group travelled to Torrey, Utah which was used as a base for visiting Capitol Reef National Park, Escalante National Park, Calk Creek Falls, Goblin Valley, Little Wild Horse Canyon, Devils Garden and the small town of Hanksville, Utah.

The second stop on the trip was Moab, Utah, a small desert town that has been forever changed since the advent of the mountain bike. The home to Arches National Park, the town now offers a cautionary lesson in regards to the interface of natural resources and tourism. While in Moab the class also visited Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park.

Next, the class travelled to the Navajo Nation, the home for Monument Valley Tribal Park and to the many scenes from iconic western films such as Stagecoach (1939) and The Searchers (1956). After spending a day in the Navajo Nation, the class moved on to the Grand Canyon where students could view the legendary geologic wonder while at the same time seeing firsthand the pressures that tourism can put on natural resources. The night was spent photographing the night skies over the canyon and making landscapes by moonlight.

The final stop was Henderson, Nevada and Lake Las Vegas for a well-deserved free day. The students had all put in 12 hours on each of the 11 days and took advantage of the last day to rest and review all of the images produced while on the trip.

The western travelers will be meeting during the spring term to review, print and evaluate the images which will then be on display in the lobby of the URBN Center for Westphal College at 35th and Market Streets in late May.

Western Landscape Canyon
Little Wild Horse Canyon, Utah
by Photography Senior
Rachel Wisniewski

Western Landscape
Image of Photography student at Dead Horse Point, Utah
by Program Director Paul Runyon