Professor captures region's beauty with his camera
January 28, 2010 4:30 PM
Nature photographs taken by Christopher Rolinson, above, are on display at the Father Regis Ryan Arts Center in McKees Rocks.
By Bob Podurgiel
A wife has to be pretty understanding to support a husband who wakes at 4 a.m. on his day off and drives a hundred miles to shoot photographs in sub-freezing weather.
But Cara Colaizzi-Rolinson is that kind of person. She is married to Christopher Rolinson of Coraopolis, a photojournalism professor at Point Park University who has completed a four-year project documenting Western Pennsylvania's state parks, wildlife and forest preserves.
Mr. Rolinson estimates that over the course of his project he has taken more than 5,000 photographs in the 26 state parks, four state forests, two national wildlife refuges and one national forest -- all in Western Pennsylvania.
Out of that treasure trove of photographs, he has chosen 83 to include in a book he recently published, "Our State Parks -- Western Pennsylvania." The book is dedicated to Cara and his preschool-age sons Maxwell and Andrew.
He also has selected 34 photographs for exhibit in the first-floor art gallery of the Father Ryan Arts Center in McKees Rocks.
"I wanted to bring awareness to Western Pennsylvania wilderness areas and to prove a point that there is a lot of wilderness in Western Pennsylvania that is just as pretty as the nature areas in the western United States in places like Utah," Mr. Rolinson said.
The idea for photographing the state's nature preserves sprouted in 2004 when he was taking pictures of illegal dumps in rural sections of Pennsylvania on an assignment for the Associated Press.
"A lot of people in the rural areas don't have regular garbage pickup, and some of them dump their trash in state forest and game lands," Mr. Rolinson said. "While I was photographing these illegal dump sites, I also found there were a lot of very beautiful areas and became interested in photographing them."
His interest in compiling a book of nature photographs also received a boost when Point Park gave him approval to teach a course in nature photography, which enabled him to lead his students on field trips to state wildlife and nature preserves.
"The goal was to get the students out of the city, and many of them were surprised there was so much natural beauty in Western Pennsylvania," he said. "I think there's a perception problem in general many people have that Western Pennsylvania is just an old, ugly, industrial region.
Mr. Rolinson knew otherwise from an early age. He grew up in Conway and enjoyed the forests of Beaver County as a Boy Scout.
After attending Freedom Area High School, he spent five years in the Army, with a couple of years in the Pennsylvania National Guard, where he served as a Cobra helicopter crew chief.
He enrolled in Slippery Rock University to study biology, but after taking one art class, he decided to study art and concentrated on photography.
After college, he worked two years for the Steubenville Herald-Star then enrolled for the master's degree program in journalism at Point Park, where he had an opportunity to teach.
In addition to his nature photography, many of Mr. Rolinson's photographs from AP news assignments have been published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and many of his nature photography assignments have appeared in Mt. Lebanon Magazine.
He wants those who see the exhibit at the Father Ryan Arts Center or who purchase his book to come away with an appreciation of how much beauty exists in the Western Pennsylvania natural areas.
"I would like people to visit them, take care of them and appreciate that we have them," he said.
He said the biggest surprise he had while working on the book was learning how few people visit these places.
His tips for those who enjoy nature photography are to have patience, a long lens and be ready to take a picture at any time.
As for those early wake-up calls, he said sometimes they are necessary when it comes to nature photography.
"The light is best early in the morning, the parks are quiet and the wildlife is active."
The opening reception and book signing is 6:30 to 8 p.m. Friday, at Father Ryan Arts Center, 420 Chartiers Ave., McKees Rocks. The exhibit runs 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays until Feb. 27.