Carolyn Rauen has a fondness for photography and nature, specifically when it comes to national parks.
Those passions provided a much-needed outlet during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic for Rauen, who works as an occupational therapist at UnityPoint Health-Finley Hospital in Dubuque.
“At that time, all that I was treating at work was COVID ICU patients and COVID medical floor patients,” said the 44-year-old Dubuque native. “My husband told me to go on a solo trip to Wyoming. Through COVID, my photography was a form of stress relief during a very stressful time.”
Rauen’s family ventured to Wyoming often as part of its commitment to hiking and exploring a different national park each year. And on such visits, Rauen also captured the terrain through her camera lens.
During her solo trip to Jackson Hole in 2020, the resort at which she was staying upgraded her condo.
“I think they felt bad for me traveling alone,” Rauen said, with a laugh.
As a thank you, she left them packs of notecards that she had produced as part of her side business, Natures Edge Photography.
“They started selling them and have been ever since,” Rauen said.
Then in June 2021, she embarked on another solo trip, this time to Yellowstone National Park, where she met the head of the park’s human resources department, as well as heads of the park’s retail shops.
She was given the opportunity to apply for the “Inspired by Yellowstone” program, an annual outlet for artists and photographers to have their work used as merchandise and displayed throughout hotels and shops promoting the park.
She was accepted. As a result, her work will be on sale later this year at the Old Faithful Inn and the Lake Hotel.
Additionally, a large-scale print of Rauen’s photo of the post office in Yellowstone hangs prominently in its lobby and will be stored and archived at the facility permanently.
It’s a special milestone, as March marked Yellowstone’s 150th anniversary. The park will commemorate the occasion through the end of the year.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for me to be a featured artist,” Rauen said. “This is a dream come true for me.”
Enamored with nature from family trips taken at a young age, Rauen initially took an interest in visual art via oil painting when she was 12 years old, even then depicting vast landscapes on canvas.
“When I had kids, that didn’t seem like such a good idea because of the fumes,” she said, with a laugh.
So, she picked up a camera instead.
“I’m self-taught,” Rauen said. “I started by taking photos of my boys on our family farm and learning to tweak, edit and frame them to capture the image as close as possible to the vividness I remember seeing with my own eyes. I loved the creativity of it.”
Since then, Rauen has amassed a collection of nature photos from across the U.S., including an assortment from Iowa, the Pacific Coast and numerous national parks.
In addition to prints, canvas acrylic and metal, her work also can be found on notecards, calendars, coffee mugs, water bottles and blankets.
Opportunities outside of Yellowstone have presented themselves as well.
Rauen returned to Jackson Hole in September on a trip with her oldest son and stayed at the same resort that sold her notecards. During that trip photographing Grand Teton National Park, two sister stores on the main street in town started selling the cards.
Closer to home, Rauen has donated one of her prints to Finley’s annual gala and another to the hospital’s pastoral care department.
Rauen said encouragement and support for her work not only has come from the tight-knit communities she has established from her travels but also from the home front.
Chad Wolbers, president and CEO of Finley, called Rauen “a gifted and passionate photographer.”
“I very much enjoy talking with her about her growing company and the joy her work brings to others, including me personally,” he said. “In addition to being a gifted photographer, she is an amazing caregiver. As with her skill as a photographer, she brings her commitment to excellence and her overwhelmingly positive attitude to her role as one of our OTs and in a way that our patients truly love and admire. We’re blessed to have her on our team.”
Rauen has no plans to leave that role behind. She said her goal isn’t focused on benefiting monetarily through her photography but, rather, “to bring a feeling of peace through nature” to the onlooker, as well as exploring avenues for her work to be seen on larger platforms.
“Nature everywhere, not just national parks, provides such beauty, peace and solace,” she said. “I hope, through my photography, to promote cherishing nature and protecting it for generations to come. Our national parks are our greatest idea.”
More information on her work is available at naturesedgephotography.org.
Megan Gloss writes for the Telegraph Herald.