A photographic legacy comes home to NAU – The NAU Review

In a career spanning more than 60 years, David Muench has photographed some of the most spectacular landscapes in the world. His pictures and books have inspired countless landscape photographers and travelers and, according to Muench, gave his life meaning.

“Photography is an extension of my eye,” said Münch. “I see, therefore I understand better. What I see and what I photograph is the timeless moment – that moment that exists between the past and the future; this moment that – in the photo – is eternal.”

Muench’s photographs, thanks to his donation of his photographic legacy to the Special Collections and Archives of Northern Arizona University’s Cline Library, will soon provide timeless inspiration not only to his fans, but to students, researchers, teachers and others.

“I hope that my work and perspective will inspire students to respond creatively to the world around them,” Muench said. “Since landscape photographers instinctively connect their inner sensations and feelings to the rhythms and visual forms of nature, I can imagine my images serving as a form of communication with other photographers.”

NAU President Jose Luis Cruz Rivera said Muench’s gift will have a lasting impact in Arizona and beyond.

“We are honored that David Muench has entrusted his life’s work to NAU,” said Cruz Rivera. “It has the potential to have a significant impact on our strategic priorities, from educating students and informing researchers who will contribute to a more sustainable future, to engaging a global audience of people who share appreciation for the wonders share our world and excellence in photography. We look forward to sharing it with the world.”

Rainbow, Desert Storm Saguaro National Park, Sonoran Desert. Photo above: A moonset over Cathedral Rocks, Sedona, Ariz., demonstrates the artistry of photographer David Muench (photo ca. 1998-2000).

Connecting a legacy

Peter RungeHead of Special Collections and Archives, said the potential impact of the collection became clear to Münch when he and his wife Ruth Rudner toured the NAU archives, library and campus in the summer of 2019.

“During our tour, we talked about how we could connect his archival legacy with the faculty, the curriculum and the students, and that really impressed him,” Runge said. “His eyes just shone. He wants to inspire aspiring photographers to continue capturing the art of landscape photography.”

Aside from the potential integration of the collection in support of high caliber academics, which is an element of NAU’s mission, it also ties into the university’s commitment to impactful scholarship, creative endeavor, and public service.

“If we dig deeper, the collection also touches on other issues in today’s world,” Runge said. “David has been photographing for over 70 years. Over this period, his work not only documents a landscape in time; It also documents changes over time, such as B. Environmental changes, changes in indigenous and ancestral lands, wildfire and water changes, etc. These issues were not necessarily the intent of these photographs; However, they will have a new impact beyond their aesthetic quality and purpose. It’s one of the many aspects of David’s collection that excites me.”

Although Muench was born in California and now calls Montana his home, he has photographed northern Arizona extensively, from the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the top of the San Francisco Peaks, which hold a special place in his heart, Runge said.

“David said he comes to the San Francisco Peaks to balance and center himself,” Runge said. “He feels a spiritual connection to the Peaks. To have his archival legacy in one of his favorite places is fitting.”

Special collections and archives are already housed in the photo archive of Josef Muench, the father of David Muench, who worked as a photographer Arizona highways for over 50 years. While Josef Münch’s work focused heavily on the Southwest, David Münch’s work encompasses the Southwest but also shows a global reach, Runge said.

“David’s work uses a unique style or technique that he calls ‘near/far,'” Runge said. “He often has an object in the foreground, but often the background is the most important thing. For example, you can have a rock or tree in the foreground that frames and contextualizes the background.”

union of a collection

Photographer David Muench captured this dramatic view of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park from Hunts Mesa (photo circa 1960-1965).  The park is located on the Arizona-Utah border within the Navajo Nation.
Photographer David Muench captured this dramatic view of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park from Hunts Mesa (photo circa 1960-1965). The park is located on the Arizona-Utah border within the Navajo Nation.

The Muench donation includes an enormous collection of material: slides, slides, prints and framed exhibits; digital content; books and other publications. There are even a few cameras.

The collection will be transferred to the Cline Library from four locations in three western states. The materials collected at the first site in New Mexico filled two 18-foot box trucks (refrigerated trucks are used to ensure the photographic material does not kink, warp, or melt) to the brim. A subsequent trip to a first location in California filled a third 18-foot truck to capacity; A final trip to a fourth location in California filled a box truck. The materials from the three voyages are now housed in special collections and archives; the final batch of materials — digital files held in Montana — will be transferred to the archives by the end of the year.

When the last image is transferred, a collection that was in scattered locations will be reunited with a view of the San Francisco Peaks.

As parts of the collection are brought into NAU’s archives, archivists record basic information that helps them prioritize and prepare the collection for access. Once the entire collection is in place, archivists can fully assess the collection and develop a plan to make it available to users. Student staff and interns will participate in the archiving and description activities that will lead to access to the collection, a unique learning opportunity for them.

Dean and University Librarian Cynthia Childrey is excited about the coming together of the Muench collection at the Cline Library and the potential the photographer’s gift holds for the future.

Cottonwood trees reflect the Virgin River at the Sinawava Temple in Zion National Park, Utah, in this photo by David Muench (pictured ca. 1965-66).

“It was one of the most exciting experiences of my career to see the arrival of the David Muench Collection at the Cline Library and to have the opportunity to meet him and talk to him about his work,” said Childrey. “We are honored that he has entrusted us with preserving the David Muench collection and making it accessible for future generations. We are also incredibly excited about the learning and research opportunities it brings to our doorstep.”

Given the size and scope of the collection, it will take a great deal of time and effort before it is available for use. Runge anticipates significant demand for access well beyond NAU and northern Arizona, which already attracts world-class landscape photographers for its natural beauty.

“We assume that a community will form around him,” said Runge. “It has the potential to lure photographers, artists and others into special collections and archives to explore the collection. There’s a lot that people haven’t seen yet.”

Archive staff plan to provide regular updates as the materials are processed and made available to users. For more information, see David Muench page on the Special Collections and Archives website.

You can also improve the lives of lumberjacks by donating to the NAU Foundation Fund for special collections and archives. Your donation helps support the preservation and expedited access to The David Muench Photographs.

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Laura RoseTaylor | Cline Library

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