Remembering Kansas

I’ve been living in Montana for almost two years now. And still I am constantly reminding myself not to take this place for granted. Pay attention. Look around. Get outside and into the wild. Photograph EVERYTHING!

I am not planning on going anywhere anytime soon, in fact, there is a part of me that has begun to think this might be the place where I’d finally like to stay. None the less, I have to remind myself to do these things because otherwise I get blind to what is right in front of me. I forget to be awe-struck by what I see every day. I forget that the pattern of my life has so far been, to move to a new place, spend a few years, enjoy it while I am there, move on, and never return on any kind of permanent basis. I do not want to miss the opportunities that surround me here because I am aware that they may not always be mine.
One of the places I lived and once loved was Kansas. And last week I had a bit of a Kansas moment right here in Montana.

In 2002 I got my first newspaper job at a daily paper in Salina, Kansas. That was not my dream location. Kansas is not what springs to my mind when I think of scenic wonders. I wanted mountains, or an ocean, not the never-ending prairies and flatlands. But I was there for almost two years and in those years I did learn to appreciate the sprawling beauty of it.
When I was in the midwest I loved to storm chase. I never caught up with any of the tornados, but Lord knows I went looking for them. We had a storm come rolling into the Flathead Valley from the west and the famous big sky was violently filled with clouds pushing their way in. As I went looking for a view of the storm to photograph I headed west and found myself in the wheat fields of Montana. The golden wheat and the big sky, it was all so familiar. The one major difference was the line of mountains off to the west. Kansas definitely doesn’t have that vertical element along the horizon.
Sometimes I find myself missing the endless open of plains. I find myself thinking, it has been too long since I passed through that area, and far too long since I had the chance to really see and photograph it. Most of the photos with this blog entry are several years old. These are from my life then. But they are also a reminder to me. Again, always the message is: don’t take this place for granted.

I don’t want to leave Montana, whenever that day may come, and think, I wish I had done more. I wish I had photographed more. Explored more. Traveled more. Hiked more. Seen more. Captured more. When it’s time to leave I want to pack up my journals and my box filled with photos without one shred of regret. They are my tangible memories of my life and moments I lived and loved. They are my proof that I did not waste the time that was given to me.

There is a poem by Mary Oliver that expresses this best called When Death Comes. The last stanzas of it read:

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,

or full of argument

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

A Tom Dorsey Photo

Long ago and far away I lived in Kansas and where I worked for the Salina Journal. It was my first full-time newspaper gig and in many ways a proving ground of sorts. I got there in 2002 and left at the end of 2003. It seems like a lifetime ago.

While at the Journal I worked with two very talented photographers, Tom Dorsey, the chief photographer, and Ryan Soderlin. This was fairly early in my life as a professional photographer and I feel that I learned so much from working with these guys.

Ryan is the person who introduced me to the idea of the “37th frame” a concept strictly digital photographers would have no connection to. It goes back to the days when photographers bulk loaded their own rolls of film. A roll of bulk loaded film is 36 shots. But sometimes you would have an extra frame. That 37th frame became a shot that a photographer takes just for themselves. Not for the paper, not for any audience, it’s a chance to reconnect to the art of photography. When I started in all this, I began on film and sometimes I still miss it. I have bulk loaded my own film (who could ever forget the days of T-Max and Tri-X). Even though I’m well into the digital age (and glad to be there) I still try to make time for those personal shots. Without them, I think I would get all too jaded.

From Tom I learned about Photoshop and color. He’s the person who really helped me understand the value of quality toning and editing. Tom always had such a sense of wonder in his photographs. I don’t know exactly how long Tom has been with the Journal, but it’s got to be going on decades plural by now. And even though he’s in the same place, looking at the same subjects day after day and year after year, Tom still manages to keep his eyes open and see the beauty around him.

Today as I was surfing the Associated Press TOPIX (top pictures from around the world) I saw this lovely sunrise of barn out in Kansas. Wouldn’t you know it, it’s a Tom Dorsey photo. It’s been years since I’ve had the chance to visit Kansas. Seeing that photo seemed like Life presenting me the perfect excuse to call up an old friend just send well wishes. I’ve already told Tom congrats on the phone, but he gave me permission to share this photo on my blog so here it is…

Congrats to Tom Dorsey for winning the attention of the AP and subsequently the world with his beautiful photo.

The sun illuminates clouds early Thursday morning June 16, 2011, behind a barn east of Salina, Kansas. Later in the morning thunder storms dropped heavy rain in the area. (AP Photo/Salina Journal, Tom Dorsey)