Friday, August 5, 2022

August's Archival Works Friday!



It's Archival Works Friday – so soon??!! 

As I mentioned before - I'll post a painting, drawing or serigraph (silkscreen prints) from the "archive" files of years past...and give a little back story on the work - the first Friday of the month. 

I am now including photographs of past years. I hope you'll find it interesting! 

I know I've gotten into this topic before with 'some' of you; it is something I relive occasionally when someone poses the question where I started; where it all began I guess. 

First it was just unintentional small steps...parents who didn't protest about the little things...frogs, toads and turtles "free ranging" in the basement; keeping a Brown Bat in a bird cage on the front porch; science summer school; teaching the neighborhood squirrels to eat out of my hand; wading and fishing in neighborhood streams. (OK...the bat in the cage didn't go over well but we kept it for a couple days anyway.) 

I gained an appreciation for the beauty of this scheme of things. I was fascinated by the light shimmering off the membrane of an amphibian, the colors and design of a turtle's carapace and plastron, the shapes of trees, their leaves, the hillsides along the Des Moines River valley, the rocks and fossils along the favorite stream of my youth - Lizard Creek, or lying on a pasture hillside staring at the sky...watching clouds and the birds that intersected my field of view. 

One day, after saving for weeks, I bought a book..over $12 - a lot of money back then for a kid!  I was eleven or twelve; the book was full of color illustrations by Louis Aggassiz Fuertes. They were awesome, beautiful...the slip cover of this 1937 edition book, for the lack of a better word, transported me. On the front cover were two of my most favorite birds, a Cooper's and a Red-tailed Hawk - perched on treetop branches above forested hillsides. The landscape and the birds were mesmerizing for a young impressionable me. I wanted to paint birds. 

Birds in the yard would never seem to hold still long enough for me to draw; I got the idea I needed to photograph them, and then I could draw them from their photo; brilliant idea I thought. After all, Audubon drew and painted from his birds after shooting them – this would be less messy! 

I didn't have a camera, but my mother loaned me her old box camera. Ya, the old Ansco Shur-Shot Jr. at the top of this post, was to be my first camera. I actually took quite a few pictures with this Ansco...all B& was a 120 film camera (2 1/4X2 3/4" or 6X7cm). You can kind of guess how useful it was as a bird camera though - not very. 

One incident convinced me to get a "suitable" camera. I was walking the upper banks along Lizard Creek's south branch west of town (Ft Dodge, IA) one summer afternoon. It was a typical hot and humid day and the afternoon wasn't the best condition to find birds. By just dumb luck I came upon a Great Horned Owl sitting in a tree jutting out of the high bank below me. The bird was maybe 3 - 4 feet out from the bank on a branch about 8 - 10 feet above the water flowing beneath it. The bird was awake, looking across the creek into the woodland there. I dropped as fast as I could into the grass above the high bank and crawled very slowly on my stomach to the bank's edge and peered over - it hadn't seen or heard me, the noise of the creek had masked my presence. My heart was pounding so loud I was sure the bird would hear it! 

The owl was sitting in deep shade. I pushed the box camera ahead of me and tried peering into the viewfinder without raising my head too much and giving myself away. I was no more than 6-8 feet away from the bird, yet I could not find the owl in my viewfinder; the old box camera's viewfinder just was not bright enough. I looked up again and tried to reference where the bird was, then looked back into the viewfinder - still no bird, I looked up again and the owl was no was gone. 

My first SLR 35mm camera in 1963

Whether the bird spotted or heard me I really don't know, what I do remember is the rush from the experience and the needling anguish of blowing it! That was not going to happen again! I spent the next year saving money from about any odd job I could find, (mainly my paper route) and bought myself an East German 'Praktica IV' SLR and a 400mm lens. As best I can recollect, this was in 1963. 

My first bird photo with my Praktica SLR in 1964 (White-breasted Nuthatch) on Kodachrome slide film with a Kowa 400mm lens and a bellows attachment for a closer focus range.

I became hooked on nature photography that way...birds eventually led to all flora and fauna and to the landscape. Painting nature eventually led the same direction. I don't know why I didn't become an ornithologist, biologist or botanist? There was always an urge to paint, draw or photograph and that's all I can say. 

We all gotta start somewhere!