Back in October of 2014, Sarah Creighton, a former fashion photographer, had just hiked to one of the lookouts in Bryce Canyon National Park. She was a month into what would be a two-year-long photo project, and after taking in the view of the pillar-like hoodoos, she set up her tripod, took off her pants, and prepared to shoot.
“It’s a national park. Act like it,” yelled a man from a neighboring viewpoint.
“I laughed, I’ll be honest,” Creighton, who released The Great Asscape in late September, remembers. “I’m pretty sure what he meant was respect it? But from my point of view, I was. Littering would be disrespectful. I was just trying to enjoy myself.”
Creighton, whose home base is Seattle, Washington, has spent the better part of the last two years sleeping in the back of an ’86 Toyota SR5 pursuing shots of her bare ass at the most iconic national parks in the Western U.S.
“Life in our time is heavy,” she says. An orange politician believes global warming was created as a hoax by the Chinese, and even our protected spaces bare the mark of a changing climate.
At Yosemite, a park known for its waterfalls, the surrounding California drought was so severe she didn’t see a single trickle.
“As sad as that was, it was just as important to see that in person,” she says. “Now that you’ve stood there and you’ve seen it, you can’t deny it anymore. You can’t ignore it.”
Some might view Creighton’s work as salacious, and there are certainly many women going into the wild, doffing their tops, and snapping a photo for Instagram likes.
“It’s like the ‘slutty girl Halloween costume,'” she says. “They get away with it because nobody can say anything: ‘It’s nature!’ But it’s cheap.”
“Sex sells — in any industry, in any situation,” says Katie Boué, the community and social media coordinator at the Outdoor Industry Association. “People like to see naked bodies.”
Boué has also seen this trend, and she views it as a reflection of the times.
“As the outdoors becomes more mainstream and more and more people are getting outside, you see posts like this just popping up,” she says. “It’s just part of culture, and now it’s bleeding into the outdoors.”
But in her opinion, there is a second camp: those who use it as a means of women claiming their own place in a traditionally male space.
Boué, who has taken photos herself, says, “It’s this empowering moment of really celebrating your body.”
Amazingly enough, Creighton subscribes to neither of these sides. Her purpose is for the fun of it, the freedom that comes with the wild, which she says has for years been a form of therapy for her.
“[Nature] is not judging you. It doesn’t care what you look like, it doesn’t care if you have cool shoes, it doesn’t care how many ‘likes’ you have on Instagram,” she says. “It doesn't feel sorry for itself, it doesn’t feel like it’s not enough — all those things that I think a lot of us struggle with. For me, it brings me back to my center.”
While Creighton may identify as a woman, everyone has a butt, she says, and, more importantly, everyone finds butts amusing.
During her missions to Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Arches, Zion, Joshua Tree and others, plenty of people caught her sans pants, but only one man seemed offended. Most thought it was hilarious.
“Life is heavy, and a lot of people feel a lot of emotions about it. People forget to have fun,” she says. “I try very hard with this whole series not to make it sexual or offensive — there’s not any body parts aside from a butt.
“But even if they were offended, at least they have something to talk about,” she adds.
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