Stan Jorstad
1922 - 2013  Class of 2004  Visual Arts
It’s a brisk day in early March and the gusty wind is inspiring the pine trees in the woods west of St. Charles, Illinois, to sing fitfully. Nonetheless the kitchen door of the house that Stan Jorstad designed and built forty years ago is standing wide open. And why not. The compact octogenarian with the wavy gold-and-white hair and the buttoned-up tan flannel shirt has seldom been out of touch with Mother Nature. Why would he start now?

The luminous photographs that made Stan famous are nowhere to be seen. There are clay folk art figures from Mexico on a table and a framed picture of a deeply prayerful Pope John Paul II clutching his famous crucifix. Stan is hopefully overwintering some geraniums in a bright window, a sign that he is a gardener and the carefully composed landscape leading to his front door is the work of his own hands. The smell of coffee is in the air. His kitchen gear bespeaks a man who likes to cook. Somewhere in his spacious and light-filled house is the collection of one hundred cameras he treasures as the tools of his trade. The artist himself is quiet, modest, unexcitable and genuinely friendly. This is the man some people call the “Ansel Adams of color photography.”

Indeed, Stan Jorstad is a man unique in the world of photography. His work, artistic photographs of fifty-eight of the U.S. National Parks, is an American cultural treasure that has been viewed across the country from the White House to the Smithsonian to the Statue of Liberty to many national parks, galleries, universities and museums. Selected works have traveled to Paris for an exhibit of panoramic photography and to Beijing as part of the U.S. State Department “Art in Embassies” program. His 1997 book “These Rare Lands,” published by Simon and Schuster, contains many of those images. Whoever would understand the soul of America must certainly look into Stan’s spiritual and serene portraits of our most famous natural places. No other living photographer has ever captured such a complete vision of our homeland, or done it with such purity of technique, without the use of filters or computer manipulation.

Stan was born in Jamaica, Long Island, New York, the son of Floyd Jorstad and Frances Kennedy, on March 18, 1922. His father, a mechanical and electrical engineer, moved several times when Stan was very young, to work on a dam in Keokuk, Iowa, and then to work for General Electric in Schenectady, New York, before winding up in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago when Stan was a 4-year-old. The family lived there and in Mount Prospect for the next fourteen years. Floyd was a photography buff and gave Stan his first camera, an Ansco, at the age of about ten. The lad was hooked immediately. To encourage his son, Floyd built a darkroom in the family home where Stan learned processing and printing. As a boy Stan played a lot of baseball and hockey and also skied. At Arlington High School, Stan excelled in his trumpet studies and played with many high school groups. But photography was taking root in his soul.

After his graduation in 1940 the family moved to Philadelphia where Floyd was working in the naval yards. Stan watched as the pressures of preparing ships for war took their toll on his father. Floyd died of a heart attack in 1941. Stan had planned to study forestry at Penn State University but after his father’s death he stayed closer to home, studying music at Temple University. Next, however, the family relocated to Oak Park, Illinois. They needed a breadwinner and Stan left college to work as a machinist for General Electric.

About this time he decided to do summer training for his hobbies of ice racing and hockey. He had barely laced up his long-bladed racing skates at the Chicago Arena indoor rink when his eye fell upon the figure-skating instructor out on the ice. So Stan Jorstad, who later in life would sometimes wait ten days for the light to be perfect before taking a picture of a beautiful scene, skated right up to beautiful Wanda Szatowski and asked her to ice dance to the music on the loudspeaker. “Ice dancing in racing skates … well, it isn’t the greatest,” he chuckled, “but it worked out pretty well in the long run.” They were married after the war in 1945 and raised four children. Wanda passed away in 1992. They had been married for forty-seven years. These Rare Lands is dedicated to her.

In 1943 Stan and his brother, Bud, both volunteered for the Army. The Jorstad boys were athletic and adventurous and both were recommended for the 10th Mountain Division, a new unit just being formed at the urging of President Roosevelt. They trained at Camp Hale, 10,000 feet up in the Colorado Rockies, surviving 30-below-zero nights, performing tactical maneuvers without the use of fires, and trekking as much as seventy-five miles across the mountains in three days. Eventually they were deployed in the Apennine Mountains of northern Italy, where the Allied offensive was stalled. The 10th Mountain succeeded in breaking through. (Today the 10th Mountain is the most-deployed division in the history of the U.S. Army, serving in as many as twenty countries at the same time, with paratroopers, mountain infantry, helicopters and artillery.)

“I gave myself the job of photographing the mountains we were in,” Stan said, a pastime which was actually frowned upon because captured film could be used by the enemy to obtain intelligence. Midway through the offensive Stan was hit in the shoulder by an 88mm artillery shell which, providentially, was a dud, but severely dislocated his shoulder. He lost his camera and the forty-two rolls of film he had packed across the mountains, and wound up in a hospital for 2 months. Still, he returned to duty after rehabilitation and finished his service, ending up with three Bronze Service Stars, a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and a Combat Infantry Badge, which, in one of the interweavings often found in the Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame, was designed by fellow-inductee Trygve Rovelstad.

Stan returned to Chicago to attend the Ray School of Art, Design and Photography where he studied design and commercial photography. Still an outdoorsman, he had trouble adapting to the warmth of the family home and slept in the unheated attic for the first winter because it was more comfortable there.

Stan began his career as a package designer with Raymond Loewy Design and later worked in design and was the multi-award winning director of photography for the Container Corporation of America for twenty-five years. He designed and supplied photographic images for all kinds of packaging. “I often photographed food, because virtually every food package has a picture on it,” he observed. He also made industrial motion pictures, and completed about two hundred films on the job.

In 1954, the 32-year old Jorstad met Hans Graff, a film editor for the popular TV show “Wild Kingdom with Marlin Perkins.” A few years earlier the men would have been enemies – Graff was a German, a former Luftwaffe pilot who had served on the Russian front in World War II. But instead a friendship developed, and Graff encouraged Stan to come to Telecine Productions in Park Ridge to apply for the job of cinematographer. Eventually he did, and over a span of four years in the 1960s he filmed a truly intimidating array of wild, and often dangerous, animals, working with naturalists Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler. He filmed a giant anteater at the Atlanta zoo, otters in Wisconsin, bats and pure white blind crayfish in underground rivers in Kentucky caves, falcons and eagles in Florida, and many more. “It was a lot of fun” Stan remembered. “Marlin was a great jokester and we all enjoyed ourselves.” On one memorable trip Stan brought along his older daughter, Jan, about twelve at the time. They had been told to wear baggy old clothing and to the delight of father and daughter the baby otters, brought over by the mother otter, slipped in and out of their oversized sleeves and pant legs and made human slides out of the chortling pair. But cinematography had built-in limitations for an artistic photographer like Stan. “There are so many people involved in motion pictures,” he relayed. “It’s not just filming, you have a director, a film editor, a script writer, all kinds of people who have input into the finished product. And for me that meant less control over the artistic result.”

By the 1960s Stan, then in his 40s, seriously began the work which would turn into a lifelong passion. He had already tasted the thrill of befriending and working with famous American photographers like Ansel Adams, Elliot Porter and Torkel Korling, the wildflower photographer. Using vacation time from his job, he began traveling to the national parks, with his family and his equipment. “I didn’t ever think I would go to all the parks,” he said. “It was something my Dad began, really, when he took me to a couple of parks when I was a kid. The idea just grew and grew and grew.”

He put uncounted miles on the family vehicle every year, and with his family-turned-road-crew to help, hauled gear across rugged terrain, into canyons, and up mountaintops in search of a perfect moment when he could capture the spirit of a landscape. His seventy-five-pound 1902 circut camera probably weighed more than the kids, but it went along because of the unique in-the-round images he could get with it. A circut camera turns in one direction while the enormous film, ten inches high and twenty-six feet long, moves through it in the opposite direction. It requires perfect timing or the result is, in Stan’s eloquent words “a mess.” One of his regrets about his magnum opus, his book These Rare Lands, is that pictures from the camera could not be reduced sufficiently to fit in the book. “The pictures are five to seven feet long,” Stan explained, “and that is just too long for a book foldout picture.” One circut photo, however, is in the SITES traveling show from the Smithsonian, and some will be in the permanent collection he put together for the museum at Yosemite National Park.

One of his favorite cameras is a Fuji panoramic camera which creates a 2 ¼” x 7” negative. This is the camera he used for many of the pictures in his book. “The main reason I chose to use this camera,” Stan explained, “is that I was interested in reproducing as nearly as I could what the human eye would see from the same position.”

Stan’s work was chosen by the National Park Service for its 75th anniversary photographic commemoration. In July, 1991, a one-man show was mounted in both the first and second floor rotundas of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It was such a success that its run was extended to January of 1992. Based on that, SITES, the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, invited Stan to do a long-term traveling show, which became one of their longest-running exhibits.

Stan’s family was close-knit and everyone participated from the beginning in this hobby that became a second career. The eldest, Jan, was field marshal of the operations, acting as Stan’s representative and managing the logistical arrangements that went into producing and transporting large photographic shows. A former high school art teacher and now a Fox Valley environmentalist, she lived in Elburn with her husband, Dan, a restoration carpenter who found time to make the shipping crates for the photos. Steve did all of the commercial photography, location and studio work for PhotoMark, the firm his father founded in 1979. He also did the exhibition matting, mounting and framing for the shows. “Steve does all the tough stuff, I just get the good jobs,” Stan smiled. “I get to go photograph national parks.”

His other son, Tom. worked in Washington, D.C. where he was an archaeologist and geologist for the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Mary Ann was a potter and gardener who ran The Barn Swallow art gallery and the Ivy Rose Bed and Breakfast in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Stan continues his life’s work of recording every national park in the U.S. Four new parks were added after the publication of These Rare Lands and he planned to photograph the last of those, Congaree National Park in South Carolina. If more are added, he will go there. Although no longer drives the family van, but flies, he takes Steve, Jan or his old friend Ray Kobald along.

Stan Jorstad is one of the last great landscape photographers of the film tradition. Lovers of nature and art will long have the legacy of this Fox Valley artist who, with nothing more than a camera and some film, learned to wait patiently until Mother Nature touched an incredible place with a fleeting second of transcendent beauty.

© Mary Clark Ormond
Stan Jorstad passed away on May 8, 2013, at the age of 91.
See Stan Jorstad's photos at: www.stanjorstad.com
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 Called the “Ansel Adams of color photography”  Never use