Many who read this may dismiss the situation being addressed as having little relevance since it pertains to a minority group that does not enjoy popularity in general. The news media and others seem to lack concern and give little attention to the situation. Nonetheless the consequences could have far reaching effects...The events that are stirring are quite likely the rumblings of something bigger. They are certainly an affront to freedom and justice.Read More
Although I began to write this blog a year ago (and created the images two years ago) it has sat unfinished until now. Two years ago my father died after a long battle with congestive heart failure. He lived a long life and was very active into his upper seventies but alas, that old nemesis "death" stalks all of us. My "Sleeping Meadow" series was produced shortly after his death and stems from a January hiking trip in tribute to him, coupled with my deep spiritual convictions.
My father instilled in me a love for the outdoors which included hiking, camping and canoeing. His favorite park in Missouri was Hawn State Park in the southeastern part of the state. A week after his death, I decided to take a trip to Hawn and hike the Whispering Pine Trail, which was a favorite of his. Although I took my camera equipment, and made several attempts to capture the scenery, the winter scenery was somewhat uninspiring to photograph. However, I enjoyed the seclusion and silence of the woods as I hiked, and I reminisced on times we spent hiking this trail together. I recalled the last time he visited the park. I drove him there and we hiked a short trail along Pickle Creek. Even then he struggled with dementia, attempting to recall the scenery that was once so familiar to him. On this trip I stopped several times to photograph... but nothing seemed right. Suddenly it was late in the day and I still had a bit of a trek ahead of me. It had been a number of years since I had hiked the trail and I began to wonder how many miles were still ahead of me before dark. I stepped up the pace and realized I wasn't as fit as I used to be. I began to think about how my father would time himself as he hiked the trail (at a decade older than my current age). Albeit he was not stopping frequently to photograph like I do, he was nonetheless more fit than myself.
Needless to say, I finished the trail before dark and began to leave. Although the day had been unproductive from a photographic standpoint, I felt satisfied that I had taken the time to reflect on the legacy my father had left behind - my love of the natural world and the outdoors. I felt an overwhelming sadness over the loss I had recently experienced, yet at the same time a calming peace. Upon leaving the park, I stopped at a meadow clothed in the grey and brown tones of winter. The sun was sinking beyond the horizon and the soft colors seemed harmonious. As I photographed, I pondered the experience. I observed the beauty of this seemingly dead landscape, and I reflected on the brief and temporary state that existed. Soon spring would arrive and it would be alive and teeming with the vibrancy of life... yes, the meadow was merely sleeping. So too, my spiritual belief in a resurrection came into greater focus. As the Bible likens death to sleep, and the resurrection of the dead to the stump of a tree sprouting again, those metaphors made my spirit soar. How often I am rejuvenated when spending time amongst the natural world... and this was no exception. I look forward to the day my father will be awakened from the sleep of death and restored to vibrant health and life, when we can hike together again, this time in a paradise on earth. This meadow reinforced that conviction, thus the series title - "Sleeping Meadow".
Looking back on 2016, I have mixed emotions. Although I created some wonderful photographs during the year, it was not without pain and sorrow. Early in the year my mother had a severe, disabling stroke which ended five months later in her death. As a result, I spent almost half my year as a caregiver and focused little on my photography. Although my deep faith was the primary source which enabled me to find balance and solace, I was able to find a measure of peace through my photography. In particular, my portfolio of nature photography grew as I ventured into familiar places under fresh circumstances, carving out precious little slices of time while caring for my mother. Then, in the fall, I was able to visit some new locations as I traveled further from home and explored beyond my home state of Missouri.
In choosing my top 10 photographs, I have noticed a couple of recurring themes - waterfalls and sandstone canyons. As I reviewed my portfolio, I realized that it was more difficult than I imagined to chose my top 10 photographs for the year. At any rate, here is the selection I have chosen.
In October, I had the opportunity to visit northern Illinois. While hiking the sandstone canyons in the region I visited Matthiessen State Park. As I hiked through a canyon, small waterfalls were cascading and drowning out the sound of what was to come. When I rounded a bend, I encountered this unexpected scene. My heart began racing as I saw the potential of capturing this with my camera, the light and colors were just right!. This has become one of my favorite nature images in my portfolio.
Less than an hour and a half from my home is Rockpile Canyon, located in Pickle Springs Natural Area, a place not unfamiliar to me. I have hiked the area many times in dry weather, during various seasons, and wondered what this sandstone box canyon looked like when there had been some rain; so I decided to head out early one fall morning after a night of rainfall to see. As I entered into the canyon I could hear the sound before the waterfall came into view. It was still early morning and the light was low as I maneuvered behind the waterfall so as to include the colorful autumn foliage in the scene. The low light also enabled me to capture the bluish cast of the falls.
As anyone who knows me well is aware, Hawn State Park is one of my favorite places in Missouri. I have photographed Pickle Creek on many different occasions, but I particularly like the warm, rich tones of this photograph. This was one of the only days that the lighting and fall colors were present together this past autumn. The lighting changed frequently throughput the day and I was able to capture a series of images that vary greatly in color and tone.
Throughout the month of April I was travelling 70+ miles a day roundtrip to care for my mother. However, I was able to slip away on one particular morning to visit Missouri Botanical Garden, near my home, while the wisteria was in bloom. The weather conditions were perfect - calm winds and a bright overcast sky. Again, this was one of the few days that such conditions came together this past spring. What I had not anticipated was the numerous school classes that had decided to take a field trip to the garden on that same day. Photographing with a tripod on a wooden boardwalk with children scampering about was quite the challenge, not to mention the fact they were darting in and out of this scene.
In October I was able to visit Starved Rock State Park in northern Illinois for the first time. I had seen photographs and heard about the park but never had opportunity to hike there. When I arrived, the canyons had very little water flowing. The last night I was there, however, it rained lightly throughout the night and into the next day. That morning I decided to revisit a couple of canyons and see what had changed. The waterfall in Wildcat Canyon drops 150 feet to the floor below and there was a stream of water cascading over the ledge above. After hiking down into the canyon I set up a makeshift protective umbrella and created this image in the rain. Needless to say, I had the canyon to myself.
Also less than an hour and a half from my home is Hickory Canyons Natural Area. There are several sandstone box canyons within the boundaries of the park and I have been in them on numerous occasions when they were dry. Knowing that rainfall could create intermittent waterfalls, I waited for some heavy rains to see how they are transformed. In May, the opportunity arose, after a couple of days of rainfall in the region. I left home early in the morning and hiked down a very muddy trail, unsure of what I would encounter. Once into the canyon, I could hear this waterfall from a distance and my heart began to pound. I spent the morning in the canyons photographing, then drove home and cleaned up, and then made the 70+ mile roundtrip in the afternoon to care for my invalid mother.
At the end of October - early November, my wife and I travelled to Indiana just to get away for a few days. While staying at Turkey Run State Park, we had opportunity to hike some of the sandstone canyons there. (Notice the recurring theme?) The hemlock trees added a touch of green texture to the autumn palette in the park. In this photograph, there is a peaceful, ethereal feel to the image; that, coupled with a warm tonality, attracts me to this scene.
We had a very late autumn this year in St. Louis. I couldn't believe that I was photographing peak colors early into the forth week of November! This was a chilly and overcast day, but I slipped out to photograph the Japanese Garden at Missouri Botanical Garden. A slight breeze blurs the reflections as fall foliage surrounds the footbridge in this scene giving an overall sense of tranquility and harmony.
Another version of the lead scene for this blog, this time a vertical composition. The balance between the fallen trees, autumn foliage and waterfall captures the beauty of this canyon at Matthiessen State Park in northern Illinois.
Finally, last but not least, another scene from Hawn State Park. Here, fall foliage and subtle light bring out the best in my beloved Pickle Creek. The death of my mother this year came on the heals of the loss of my father in 2015. Hawn State Park was my father's favorite park and my parents camped and hiked here many times. It is probably the one place in Missouri that holds my deepest ties to them (besides my childhood home). And so my bittersweet year ends with a tribute to them
Two of my favorite times to photograph nature in Missouri are at the edge of change during spring and fall. Although many photographers love to capture masses of color, such as a hillside full of autumn foliage or fields of colorful flowers, I prefer the more subtle transitions.Read More
Whenever I begin looking through a collection of my images I start to recall the stories behind them and this image has a lesson that goes along with it... Sometimes we only see what we are looking for and miss out on the endless possibilities that surround us.Read More
Hawn State Park will always hold a very special place in my heart... What though is it about Hawn State Park that makes it so special? I think, at least for me, it is the geology that makes the difference...Read More
As I see and hear reports of the monumental flooding throughout my state over the last few days (and more is on the way as the rivers rise) I am reminded of the transitory nature of our human condition. I also pause to reflect for a moment on one of the reasons I am drawn to nature and capturing its beauty through the camera. As humans and their impact on the earth come and go in the stream of time, it is the earth which remains (altered perhaps but nonetheless steadfast). The earth's power to heal is a constant and the renewal process can provide inspiration. I find solace and draw healing and renewal from this as I put life's pains and sorrows behind me.
This photograph of the Black River at Johnson's Shut Ins is a prime example of what I am referring to. Just over ten years ago, on December 15, 2005, the man-made earthen dam on Taum Sauk Mountain broke after prolonged heavy rains had weakened it. The deluge which rushed into the valley below inundated Johnson's Shut Ins and the hillside still bears the scars. However, ten years later with some human effort and assistance, the river course in the shut ins appears much like it was before the deluge. The erosion resistant igneous bedrock has changed little in its aftermath. Looking through my gallery of Johnson's Shut Ins one cannot tell which images were taken before and which one's after the deluge. I can only imagine what this valley looks like right now as I have witnessed flooding from heavy rains through this valley. But when it is over, peace and harmony return to the valley.
Yes, the earth has an internally designed power for renewal and time is a channel for that renewal. Likewise, in our own lives we have the capability to heal over time. Like Johnson's Shut Ins, it may take effort and assistance from those who care about us along with a willingness to respond to the help. Too, we also may bear scars as those seen on the hillside above the shut ins, but there is potential for healing. The flooding we see in our region today will also pass and eventually become simply statistics. No doubt it will leave long lasting scars on some who have been more deeply affected, but the floodwaters will recede and the rivers will continue to flow. The springs and streams will continue to feed the rivers which will flow to the sea and the earth will continue to renew itself. That is what draws me out into the natural world, renewing and refreshing my spirit. That is the beauty I try to capture in my photographs.
The old adage "patience is a virtue" is never out of date when it comes to photography. Particularly as I travel through Europe, capturing the scenes that elicit remarks about my eye for composition, do I recognize that more is needed. Often I may see or visualize a scene but know that I will not have a chance to return, or I know that this is the decisive moment. The challenge that frequently arises, however, is the people factor. European cities are pedestrian places and thus obtaining a photograph of a particular scene without people in it is one of the most challenging factors. Sometimes this can be overcome by photographing in the wee hours of the morning but that is not always the option. Often people think it is easy to photograph Europe because the subject matter is just laid out before you, but that is not the case.
Having been raised in the Midwestern United States I have been accustomed to, and taken for granted, a polite character in our culture that is lacking in densely populated, pedestrian dominant places. Whereas many people in the Midwest may notice a photographer with a tripod and stop with a polite nod or gesture before walking in front of the camera, in Europe it seems to go entirely unnoticed. It is not that Europeans are rude or impolite. rather the culture is different. People tend to be focused on where they are going and it is assumed everyone else is doing the same. No one moves to the side as you pass on the sidewalk and bicycles plow their way through the crowds. For me it is the game of "chicken" on foot. Perhaps locals have adapted because of the hoards of tourists or maybe it is just a pattern of behavior learned from infancy. Whatever the case, this cultural characteristic is what challenges me as a photographer. Once, when I mentioned to a landscape photographer who was frustrated with people who do not acknowledge photographers in the national parks here in the states, that this is a fact of life when photographing Europe, he remarked that he had never thought of that.
In view of the aforementioned challenge, I sometimes have a great attachment for some of my images. For example the image above "Red Ivy and Steps in Assisi" is one of those photographs for which I possess such an attachment. It is a popular image and I have sold a number of them. However, it was not an easy image to capture. The lighting on this stairway was right, but it was in the middle of the day. Assisi is crowded with people and these steps were not exempt. I set up a tripod to one side and waited. People came down the steps in an almost continuous flow. From time to time as the steps emptied, I thought - this is the moment... and then a breeze would begin blowing the ivy which would have just created a blur so I would wait some more. As people walked through the scene, no one paused or acknowledged that they would give me even a split second to make an exposure. At one point I overheard a man (in English) mention that I was a very patient man. In fact, my wife, who also exercises patience while waiting for me, decided to go browse in the shops. After a thirty to forty five minute wait, the light had changed a little but... voila! Yes indeed "patience is a virtue".
Although I have moved on with the times and now shoot exclusively with digital cameras, I still have to acknowledge my roots. The knowledge and experience I learned, shooting with film and equipment with more limited capabilities, has affected the way I look at scenes and the way I "see".Read More
This morning I visited Chouteau Island for the first time. I've wanted to check it out for some time but haven't got around to it. The island is along the Mississippi River on the Illinois side, a little south of the confluence with the Missouri River. Four days of rain had made it a muddy mess and the trails were flooded so hiking was limited. It was a cold morning along the river with light cloud cover allowing the sun to occasionally break through.
The trees have lost their leaves but there is still green ground cover mixing with the dead leaves. One area of the island is becoming overgrown with vines that cover the trees and almost anything vertical. The vines have lost their leaves and the yellow brown vines covering the trees are mixed with dead leaves and it creates a surreal atmosphere. I captured a number of scenes that convey this atmosphere and will be posting a gallery of the images in days to come. Here is one of the scenes I captured this morning.
To see more images from this trip visit the Chouteau Island gallery on my website.
I thought I would begin my website blogs with one of my most popular images, "Red Umbrella In the Piazza".
This photograph was taken in 2005 in Florence, Italy. As usual, I went out to photograph early in the morning. Walking from my hotel towards the Ponte Vecchio and Piazza Della Signoriaa cold rain began. Then the debate began - Should I return to the hotel? What should I do? I went to the portico of the Uffizi (which looks out over the piazza) for shelter. Looking out over the piazza I noticed the lights and reflections on the wet stones and watched the people passing by on their way to work. Posted on the walls under the portico were numerous signs stating no photography allowed (the statues on the portico). Guards were standing around watching me as I began to set up my tripod and as I set up facing out into the piazza their concerns disappeared.
I focused on a small section of pavement that had color, light and rendered the details of the stone. My intentions were to wait and watch as people passed through the frame and capture their movement with a slow enough shutter speed to cause blur and yet retain the detail in the pavement. I was hoping for the right person to come bicycling through the scene. Circumstances did not seem to be working for me in this regard when I noticed this woman walking towards the frame with a red umbrella. The wishes and hopes began... please come through this frame. This was my first venture into the digital age and I was travelling with a small, high-end (at the time) point and shoot camera, a 7MP Canon G6. The camera had slow reaction time so I knew my timing had to be impeccable, I had one chance, one shot. Just as she started to enter the frame I released the shutter and voila! Careful planning and pure serendipity came together to create this shot.
I often cite this image when discussing technology and gear. This is one of my best selling images and it was photographed with a 7MP point and shoot camera. I have sold numerous prints in 24" x 30" size and it looks great. It is a lesson in the fact that gear is not the most important equipment a photographer possesses. An eye for composition, skill, knowledge, patience and being at the right place at the right time - that is the equipment a photographer must utilize. The rest is just mechanics and technology.