Monday, November 29, 2010

GREG GUIRARD AND THE ATCHAFALAYA BASIN

As we crossed the Atchafalaya Basin Thanksgiving Day, I again thought about Greg Guirard, one of Acadiana’s premier photographers and writers about the people and scenery of the Basin. I’ve only visited with Greg three times during my forty-six years in New Iberia, but I hear about him often through one of his many friends, Janet Faulk. Janet, author of ROAD HOME, is the friend who told me about the publication of ATCHAFALAYA AUTUMN II, which is a revision and expansion of ATCHAFALAYA AUTUMN. It’s Greg’s seventh book about the people, wildlife and scenery of the Basin. The book contains 250 color photographs, and the text is written by Greg and thirteen other writers who recorded their viewpoints about the Basin. In advertising ATCHAFALAYA II, Greg makes a pitch for the "restoration of the environmental health and productivity of the largest river basin swamp system in the U.S."
I met Greg Guirard in 1984 when he was marketing his SEASONS OF LIGHT IN THE ATCHALAFAYA BASIN at a small festival in Washington, Louisiana. After leafing through the coffee table-sized book, I bought a copy because I recognized that he was an outstanding photographer of the Basin world, and I liked the quotations from William Faulkner that the book included and which, oddly enough, fit the theme of SEASONS OF LIGHT. Greg appeared to be an unassuming kind of man whose wife did most of the touting of the book as we stood there on a warm December day, admiring the color photographs of what he referred to as the "ruined woods" of the Atchafalaya. In the book, Greg includes a comment that photographs in the book were taken without the aid of filters or with any dark room manipulations, adding a caveat that on occasion, he had cheated for the sake of beauty by using a process of underexposure.

Later, during the 90’s, I met up with Greg when he visited a staff member in the offices of “Acadiana Lifestyle” where I worked as Associate Editor, and he complimented my writing of feature stories in “Lifestyle.” Several years later, I was invited to one of his “pie days,” an annual Good Friday celebration attended by people who bring and consume varieties of pies – sweet pies, vegetable pies, and seafood pies – but I couldn’t attend. However, every year, my friend Janet returns from the occasion, describing the delectable dishes she has eaten. The last time I saw Greg, he had stopped by Janet’s apartment before meeting another friend, Judy Neal, who had engaged him to plant seedlings on her lot around the corner from me. I have an idea that Judy’s property is one among many places where Greg has planted trees – photographs of trees abound in his books and reflect his love of the woods

Greg has many friends in the art and writing world, but he’s also noted for helping people in need wherever he travels, which could be North Carolina, Oregon, Costa Rica, Belize, and, of course, in his beloved Basin. His good friend, writer Rheta Johnson, who is a columnist for King Features Syndicate, describes him as the “most truly democratic soul” she has ever encountered. This morning, when I called Janet about Greg’s latest book, she said he had enjoyed supper with the composer and musician, Philip Glass, last night. Tomorrow he may be visiting with one of the numerous swamp friends he meets when he’s out on the water, photographing cypress trees, Spanish moss, black willow… While negotiating the swamp, he’s probably worrying about the future of the Atchafalaya and whether its waters will become too polluted to yield edible seafood or whether it’ll no longer be a wilderness and people who come out to visit him will have to look for wilderness solitude somewhere else.

In SEASONS OF LIGHT IN THE ATCHAFALAYA BASIN, Greg treats readers to a list of exotic names that give him enjoyment: Red-eye Swamp, Whiskey Bay, Lost Lake, Bloody Bayou. Little Devil Cut, etc. He also describes an incident in which he and his former wife, Bubbles, were hit by birdshot from a woodcock hunter who couldn’t wait for them to go by before shooting. However, he labels this mishap as an isolated incident and still believes in the essential goodness of Basin hunters and fishermen. To him, the Basin is as natural and beautiful as it was when he wrote and photographed its seasons of light 26 years ago.

We wish Greg success with the publication of ATCHAFALAYA AUTUMN II.  You may have gathered, by now, that I haven't received my copy of the revised and expanded ATCHAFALAYA AUTUMN, but the brief description in the opening paragraph should titillate you to read Greg's new book.  May he sell 100,000 copies – that is, when he takes time to enjoy success. He spends most of his days crawfishing and pulling ancient cypress logs from the swamp country he hopes to save from the encroachments of civilization. He also makes furniture and movies and is a guide for movie crews who film the Basin. One of these days, before I get too old to climb into a boat, I’ll get Janet to take me out to Greg’s stronghold and ask for a private tour, via motor launch, of the Basin he loves so well.
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