I got up two hours before sunrise and loaded up my 8×10 view camera gear that I packed the night before. I put the gear and 2 film holders loaded with Fuji Provia in my Sprinter and headed for Shaw Nature Reserve. We are very fortunate to have Shaw in the St. Louis area. It is 2,400 acres of Ozark-border landscape, surrounded with wildflowers, 3 miles of Meramec River frontage and a diversity of plant and animal habitats second to none anywhere in the world.
I love the early morning drive before sunrise in the dark. I think about all of the people that I pass rushing to their jobs and remember the days when I was one of them. It immediately puts me in a place of gratitude and being thankful that I have the opportunity to spend my mornings on the prairie and in nature.
One of the things that I love about view cameras and large format film photography is the simplicity, but also technical skill required to create fine art images. I link simplicity to nature and the complexities of large format photography to the challenges within nature. Based on my desired outcome I choose from one of three options when creating nature-based fine art images: slide film for positive transparencies, black and white negative film for classic darkroom prints, and color negative film for color darkroom prints. All of the aforementioned mediums have their unique and compelling qualities that I instinctively match with my natural subjects.
I have a personal affinity for slide film (chromes). There really is nothing comparable to viewing a large format slide on a light table. There are no digital equivalents and even if one uses a hybrid process to scan and print on modern ink-based printers, they are still unparalleled in that realm in my mind. The technical skill and experience required to create a luminous and vivid slide is something one earns over time. I often say that my slides are my retirement plan. They are what I plan on holding up to the natural light in my nursing home or retirement community if I am fortunate enough to get old and cranky. No computers, zero technology required, just natural light and each slide will anchor me back to the day I created it in the blink of the eye.
For this outing I choose 8×10 large format with a 300mm lens for two reasons. First, I simply wanted that big chrome to view and hold in my hands. Second, I love the 300mm lens on the 8×10 view camera because it provides a field of view that is close to the human eye and what I experienced in the field.
Upon arriving to Shaw I knew the spot where I wanted to wait for the sun to rise. Bill’s Meadow, named after Bill Davit, is a beautiful place, any time of day, but in the morning and late afternoon right before sunset, it is magical for me. Bill Davit planted this prairie many decades ago and I hope he has some idea of the profound joy and impact his work and vision has on me and anyone that visits this area.
My connection to Bill is two-fold. We are both naturalist and his daughter Carol is the executive director of the Missouri Prairie Foundation, where I am on the board of directors. Carol is a wonderful person and advocate for Missouri’s tallgrass prairie. Her thought leadership, work ethic, and passion for the prairie is both inspiring and invigorating. If you are not familiar with the history and status of the Missouri tallgrass prairie, then visit the Missouri Prairie Foundation website for more information and get involved today.
As I loaded my big 8×10 view camera on top of my Sprinter van in the dark I paused for a moment and soaked in the goodness. I was so thankful to be there at that given moment, I paused on my way up the ladder and looked out over the prairie and savanna landscape taking a deep breath. I released my breath slowly and felt a sense of peace. While only a few seconds had passed, it restored me and brought joy to me. I continued my routine and ultimately got everything setup and in position before the morning light came over the horizon. I always bring a folding lawn chair with me so that I can be still and experience the sights, sounds, and smells of nature that are all around me. It was very cool before sunrise and I had to wear a light hat and gloves to stay warm.
About 10 minutes before the official sunrise, I watched the sky begin to change and I noticed the activities of the birds and other inhabitants of the prairie begin to change. Based on the weather conditions I expected a colorful sunrise, however that did not happen. Never disappointed, I continued to be still and watch the morning light caress the prairie like a beautiful smile that is exchanged between a child and grandparent. The light was warm, both in color and temperature, and delivered a feeling of life and abundance. The tips of the 8 foot tall prairie grass lit up like candles in the morning light. The shadows and highlights of the landscape danced like lovers and within a 15 minute period of time, completely transformed the entire landscape right before my eyes.
After creating two exposures, I packed up my gear and moved to a new location where the morning light was cutting across the tallgrass prairie from the left side making it look and feel like a sea of warm light. I ended my morning by 8 AM with two more exposures before heading out for the day and back to the studio and office.
I will be developing the 4 slide films this week and I will post a new article so you can view them.
If you would like to support my continue efforts in analog photography, please consider making a one time donation or a regular subscription option is also available.
- Analog Film Photography Blog - www.blackandwhitefineart.net
- Facebook – facebook.com/blackandwhitefineart
- Subscribe - www.blackandwhitefineart.net/subscribe
All text and images copyright © Tim Layton Sr. 1983 – 2014