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Famous George Masa photograph wasn’t on Graybeard Mountain after all

This revelation comes as more information is learned about the extremely influential photographer, set to be the subject of a new biography and documentary.

Sepia-toned film photo showing George Masa photographing the mountains from an outcrop of Blackstack Cliffs.

The photo shows George Masa, with a companion thought to be Roger Morrow, likely photographed by landscape architect Hugo Strongmiller.

Photo via Buncombe County Special Collections, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville, NC

For many years, one of the most famous photographs of George Masa was believed to depict the photographer and a companion at Graybeard Mountain, a peak just north of Asheville. However, at a recent meetup for local creatives, called The Lobby, photographer Charlie Boss recognized the scene as a place he’d visited many times growing up. It was Blackstack Cliffs in the Cherokee National Forest.

David Huff, founder of the George Masa Foundation — which advocates innovative conservation strategies inspired by Masa — shared that this is believed to be the only photo of Masa where an exact location has been identified.

Modern day photo of Blackstack Cliffs, showing green, tree covered mountains and the outcrop where George Masa stood in the historic photograph.

Masa could have visited the cliff while mapping the Appalachian Trail.

Photo by David Huff for the George Masa Foundation

George Masa, born Masahara Izuka in Osaka, Japan in the early 1880s, arrived in Asheville in 1915. He was wildly influential in documenting the breathtaking beauty of WNC and in exploring and mapping trails, including the Appalachian Trail. Ultimately, his photography is one of the reasons the Great Smoky Mountains received support for its establishment as a national park (now the most visited national park in the US). Learn more about Masa in this snapshot of his life, career, and legacy.

In addition to a name being put to this iconic photo’s location, some mysteries surrounding Masa’s work have recently come into focus. Many of his photographs have been lost or reprinted and sold under others’ names. But last year, Angela Whitmeyer created the George Masa Photo Database, which includes 4,000 photos, many of which are unique. On top of that, documentary filmmaker Paul Bonesteel, who produced “The Mystery of George Masa” in 2002, is working on a brand new documentary and biography, “George Masa: A Life Reimagined” — the book will be published in September of this year, with the documentary following in 2025.

One of the morals of this story? Attend some local group meetups that spark your interest. Who knows, you might just witness a historic discovery.

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