My very first day in town, I saw Memorial Park. It was a beautiful and memorable park as I passed by, but little did I know how my life would become intertwined with it. Designed by the Olmsted Brothers firm in 1924, this park has been providing precious memories ever since.
When I moved to Jacksonville, Florida in 2014, I was starting my life over. I loved the peace that this park could bring, and its design was classical and soothing to me. I also loved that this park was not like most parks I had experienced before. This park was and continues to be a vibrant part of the community, where all slices of life gather.
I started taking photos in this park because I loved spending time here. I took photos on my phone, and then graduated to a real camera. All the while, I was sharing the photos with Memorial Park’s social media. I took my wife there on our very first date, and was happy to share my love of the park with her. I also found solace in hard times along the banks of the St. Johns River, located at the park.
On September 11, 2017, Hurricane Irma caused historic flooding in Jacksonville. I knew I had to record the occurrence as best as I could. I eventually ended up in over-waist-deep water, taking photos of the “Life” sculpture, the center piece of the park. One of these images became known as “Life in the River.”
I found out later that the park had received significant damage, especially the balustrade. Considering my love for the park, I decided that if my photo could be a positive force among all the chaos of the hurricane, I would. I shared the image on social media, and it went viral. It has since been called one of the most famous photos in Jacksonville history, and now hangs in public and private collections throughout the world. Proceeds from print sales have benefited Memorial Park Association in their rebuild.
The park has enriched my life in so many ways since then. I have developed a close relationship with Memorial Park Association, and helped with many of their creative projects. Among some of these exciting projects include photographing the park in bloom, providing headshots of donors and the board, recording a variety of World War I related items, including the unearthing and restoration of six scrolls that were buried in the park, naming the Floridians who died in World War I, to which the park is dedicated. Capturing Memorial Day and Veterans Day festivities in the park are some of my favorite events, including the one and only time fireworks have ever been released near the park! But the most fulfilling project of all was finally to photograph the restoration of the balustrade, approximately four years after Hurricane Irma’s wrath had taken its toll. Life has come full circle.
This ongoing relationship has given me an understanding and appreciation of who Olmsted is and what he and his sons meant to landscape architecture in America. Over the years, I have experienced two other parks I consider grand, only to learn later that they were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted or his sons. Whether Biltmore, Bok Tower, or Memorial Park, no grounds have ever inspired me like Olmsted-designed parks.
Mark Krancer is Principal of Kram Kran Photo, Jacksonville, FL.
To learn more about Olmsted Network member Memorial Park Association, visit Memorial Park Association.