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Mark Ludak... A Keen Eye Toward Open Space

by Barbara Swanda

At first glance, award-winning photographer, Mark Ludak may seem like an unusual choice to document the accomplishments of Solebury Township’s Land Preservation Program.  Ludak’s significant journalistic portfolio typically portrays scenes of urban decay, chemical waste, and the crises of war and human endurance.  But it is exactly this interest in the deterioration of our urban settings that drew Mark to his more rural subject. 

There are obvious severe consequences associated with urban and suburban planning error.  Bucks County communities are constantly balancing developers’ demands with residents’ desires to retain the area’s natural beauty. Actively adapting zoning and land preservation regulations before the area’s resources are maimed, or lost forever, is the proactive flip-side of urban planning.  And, Mark is throwing himself into the local effort. 

“Solebury is ahead of the curve in actively preserving open space.  Efforts such as this help force the recycling of existing resources.  Our cities have to make themselves better places to live, and it is beginning to happen locally—in Philadelphia, Bethlehem and Easton,” Ludak says excitedly, his passion for the subject slightly disrupting his calm demeanor.

Center Bridge Canal

Delaware River Overhang

Solebury’s foresight in the mid-1980s to establish the Land Preservation Program produced dramatic results.  “Citizens want to preserve the rural identity and agricultural basis of the community.  We don’t want to become another typical suburban community,” says Township Manager, John Granger.  To date, over 5000 Township acres have been preserved. When it was decided to document the natural images that represent Solebury, Ludak was selected.  “He’s a great photographer—and you can quote me on that,” smiled Granger, obviously pleased with the results. 

Between 2005 and 2007, Ludak is documenting the irreplaceable assets of natural beauty and preserved open space in Solebury.  Exquisite images of contrast compete for the viewer’s attention.  There are crisp outlines of bare tree limbs—sometimes encased in chilling ice—set against the soft atmospheric blur of rising fog in fields, or the river.  Open space spreads out before the eye in rolling farm fields grounding a vast expanse of sky and clouds above.  Familiar spots like McGill Hill are shot from surprising perspectives, providing a refreshing look at an old subject.

Ludak’s ability to use the camera lens to see abstractly is also apparent.  Early studies in abstract painting trained Mark to see beyond the literal subjects in his view and reduce them to basic elements of shape, color and texture.  This perspective allows some remarkable compositions.

River Winter

Magill's Hill

The main purpose of these documentary photos is to heighten awareness of land preservation issues, and to show the results of Solebury’s nationally recognized program.  The Program is a finalist in the National League of Cities’ 2006 awards to recognize Excellence in Local Government Programming, and in the Pennsylvania Planning Association’s competition for Outstanding Planning Award for Implementation.

Over 1000 images have been shot (with more to come), portions of which are printed as 13” x 19” archival photographs.  In 2006, a local gallery held an exhibition and sale of these photos, raising additional funds for the Land Preservation Program.

Solebury is fortunate to have such a valuable and treasured collection of images documenting our area.  Thanks goes to the forward-thinking leadership of the preservation program, and most of all to the keen eye, talents and social conscience of photographer, Mark Ludak. 

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