On the evening of the Winter Solstice, a dear friend was photographing people at the party with an ancient 35 mm Leica. When I was studying photojournalism at the University of Missouri, the purists (with money) used Leicas because they were incredibly quiet when compared with the Nikons of the day. A “purist” would suggest that the Leica was much less intrusive, allowing them to photograph life more covertly.
My friend is a fine photographer, and his photographs from the party were well done. At one point as we sat around a campfire we talked about Leicas, of photography, and of photojournalism. He asked specifically if I still photographed people. “Not so much,” I answered. “After 50 some years of people journalism as a career, I’m enjoying my freedom.”
When I look back at my career, especially this time of year, there is one aspect I do miss from those years working for newspapers: choosing your favorite photograph of the year. The main reason for the assignment was to fill the news hole in the time between Christmas and New Years when life typically slows for a week. While it was fun to look over a body of work to see if there was professional growth, it was equally fun to see if a particular story or photograph stood the test of time.
So now, in my second “career,” I’ve assigned myself to review my latest body of work — capturing that last one percent of the remaining remnants of prairie in the pothole region of Minnesota. Making this an interesting year for me was in trying to emulate a couple of very talented artists who embraced personal assignments of creating a meaningful image one day at a time. The idea came to me about this time a year ago as I watched an artist friend who lives near Duluth complete painting a day for an entire year. Many of us, including that artist, Karen Savage, was inspired by the work of nature photographer Jim Brandenburg, who has now published two books of photographs comprised of shooting one frame a day for 90 straight days. If Brandenburg and Savage could commit to such discipline, then I could as well.
Although it sounds simple in concept, the reality isn’t as simple as it sounds. There were days when I took only a single frame. Other days I had a variety to choose from. The challenge is to avoid falling into a subject and lighting rut. You should be aware of subject variance, a mix of focus, varying the light and natural color — and there were those gray, dull winter-ish days when getting an image with any kind of light was a challenge.
Starting almost a year ago on January 1, 2015, Rebecca and I took a walk on our home prairie and I captured my first image. On the second, I took another. And so on for all of January into February, which included a trip to Norway for two weeks where I was able to keep the string going. Upon returning home I kept up the effort until a day when I was actually too sick from the flu to climb from bed. By then I was up to 71 days. Though the chain of days was broken, over the course of the year I still made it into the prairie several times a week to continue the quest. Needless to say, I have a huge body of work from 2015.
Yes, it was a very good year. It was both fun and successful. My Prairie Impressions collection was exhibited in two galleries as single artist hangings , and some of my images were chosen in three juried exhibits — the <5000 at the Center For Small Towns at the University of Minnesota-Morris; the annual Horizontal Grandeur in Morris; and Artscape 2015 in New Ulm. I also compiled a completely separate exhibit titled the Art of Erosion with sponsorship from CURE (Clean Up the River Environment). That show had three hangings in 2015, and is scheduled for at least two for this coming year, including a regional Smithsonian Institute exhibit at Prairie Wood Environmental Learning Center starting in July. This was also my second year on the Upper Minnesota River Arts Meander. Selected canvases were also on exhibit at the Art House in Ortonville, and in the lobby of Big Stone State Park.
In addition, my Prairie Impressions work is scheduled for shows in Montevideo in February and in Willmar next July and August.
In making this selection, my goal was to select a single image from each month. Some months were simple, where one photograph simply stood out from the rest. Some months were more difficult. Actually, from April through December as many as seven photographs were on the board before a final selection was made. Yet, it was all in fun. And, I also chose one photograph as my favorite of the year for a “baker’s dozen.” Hopefully you will find my exercise entertaining and will enjoy the photography.
So, Happy New Year, everyone! May we all be healthy and happy as we move through the coming days, weeks and months of the new year.