faux diorama

Cowboys, Stars, and Prairie Ghosts

Last week was our spring break, so a much needed road trip to the Tallgrass Prairie in Kansas was taken. Wilson, my colleague and shooting partner, joined me for a few days in the Flint Hills, where we made Cottonwood Falls our base of operation. Specifically, we stayed at an eclectic little stone motel called the Millstream Resort Motel, overlooking the Cottonwood River.

Our timing for the trip was great, as we had clear skies and no snow storms until after we returned! I had recently read Jim Hoy’s (director of the Center for Great Plains Studies) book, Flint Hills Cowboys: Tales from the Tallgrass Prairie, so many of the small towns he mentioned became our venues for imaging making. Plus, after talking with a local gravedigger, we found other exciting places to visit, such as living ghost towns, abandoned farmsteads, octogenarian speedsters, and an idle gristmill from the 19th century.

In keeping with Hunter Neal’s classic rendition of the Kansas Food Pyramid (see drawing diagram below), I had to continue my quest of sampling biscuits and gravy at the local cafes. We also were introduced to a new culinary delight known as bierocks, at Dave’s Place on the edge of Strong City.

We managed to photograph star trails two nights at the Chase County State Lake, which is just south of the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Clear, crisp nights with a half-moon made for some interesting shots. Wilson did manage to have frost develop on his lens while the temps dropped and we enjoyed a variety of ales. Moose Drool Brown Ale by Big Sky Brewing and Single-Wide IPA by Boulevard proved to be favorites!

As I continue my creative research in the Flint Hills, this trip allowed me to pursue my multimedia interests with digital still photography. Here, I’m exploring the visual dimensions coupled with ambient or natural audio. New photographic toys under investigation were my new Lensbaby Composer Pro with Sweet 35 (35mm modern-day scioptic lens), Tascam DR-07MKII digital audio recorder, and a new lightweight carbon-fiber tripod by Induro (CT-214).

Here’s some images from the trip…enjoy!

Windmill near Chase County State Lake, Cottonwood, Kansas. © Terry Ownby.

Windmill near Chase County State Lake, Cottonwood, Kansas. © Terry Ownby.

Forgotten swings at the Lower Fox Creek Schoolhouse near Spring Hill Ranch in the Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve, sway in during strong prairie winds on our recent visit. © Terry Ownby.

Forgotten swings at the Lower Fox Creek Schoolhouse near Spring Hill Ranch in the Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve, sway in during strong prairie winds on our recent visit.To see animation, click on image. © Terry Ownby.

Breakfast at Emma Chase Cafe in Cottonwood Falls, KS. © Terry Ownby

Breakfast at Emma Chase Cafe in Cottonwood Falls, KS. © Terry Ownby

The only church in Bazaar, Kansas, heart of cattle grazing country in the Flint Hills. © Terry Ownby

The only church in Bazaar, Kansas, heart of cattle grazing country in the Flint Hills. © Terry Ownby

Star trails at the Chase County Fishing Lake, just west from Cottonwood Fall, Kansas. © Terry Ownby

Star trails at the Chase County Fishing Lake, just west from Cottonwood Fall, Kansas. © Terry Ownby

Doctor William B. Jones build this farmstead in 1878. © Terry Ownby

Doctor William B. Jones build this farmstead in 1878. © Terry Ownby

Sycamore trees along Cedar Creek, near Cedar Point, Kansas. © Terry Ownby

Sycamore trees along Cedar Creek, near Cedar Point, Kansas. © Terry Ownby

Strong City Rodeo champions from the past. Blonde-haired Marge Roberts was a trick rider at the rodeo known for her standing upright "Dive" on a speeding horse, during the 1950s. © Terry Ownby

Strong City Rodeo champions from the past. Blonde-haired Marge Roberts was a trick rider at the rodeo known for her standing upright “Dive” on a speeding horse, during the 1950s. © Terry Ownby

Abandoned grist mill along side the Cottonwood River in a living ghost town called Cedar Point, Kansas. © Terry Ownby

Abandoned grist mill along side the Cottonwood River in a living ghost town called Cedar Point, Kansas. © Terry Ownby

Hunter Neal's version of the food pyramid, after his photo expedition to the Kansas prairie. © Hunter Neal

Hunter Neal’s version of the food pyramid, after his photo expedition to the Kansas prairie. © Hunter Neal

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Autumn on the Tall Grass Prairie

At the beginning of November, I had the opportunity to return to the prairie with friends and colleagues. Although we missed the peak colors, this was still our first trip out there during this time of year and it was just as beautiful, in its own natural way. Joining us from Connecticut was photographer Hunter Neal. He quickly assimilated into our banter and camaraderie, including sampling canned sausage gravy and biscuits and other local fare.

Included in this post are a few samples shot with the Lensbaby Composer Pro. This is a 50mm selective focus Double Glass Optic with drop in aperture discs. The lens was great fun and I’m looking forward to working with its wide-angle, 35mm counterpart, the Composer Pro with Sweet 35, which has built-in apertures.

Sunrise on Kings Creek, near Hokanson Homestead. © Terry Ownby.

Looking south at the Konza Prairie. © Terry Ownby.

View from the Radio Tower at Konza Prairie. © Terry Ownby.

In search of bison at the National Tall Grass Prairie Preserver. © Terry Ownby.

Cottonwoods in gulch on Tall Grass Prairie Preserve. © Terry Ownby.

Big Cottonwoods on southern section of Tall Grass Prairie. © Terry Ownby.

Courthouse at Cottonwood Falls, Kansas. © Terry Ownby.

Hunter Neal photographing sunset at Konza Prairie.

Mammy’s Head’n to Texas!

Images from my Incongruity series keep reaping acclaim and exhibitions! A shot from last summer’s road trip to New Orleans garnered an exhibit venue down in Johnson City, Texas. The photograph, Mammy’s Cupboard was shot down in Natchez, MS, and will go on display later this month at the A. Smith Gallery. The national competition, called “Domicile”, was a juried show. I also found out the image will be used on their promo cards, which are to hit the postal mail soon.

© 2009 Terry Ownby

Big Brutus!

My search for incongruities continues. I started photographing odd and large culturally significant objects about five years ago and doubt if I’ll ever grow tired of this quest. Two years ago I went to a technology convention at Pittsburg State University in southeast Kansas. One of my traveling companions, Wilson, had discovered the existence of Big Brutus and had suggested that we photograph it for my series. We weren’t sure where it was located and time at the convention prevented us from tracking it down. However, this past weekend, he and I had the opportunity to travel to Joplin, MO, to drop off our images that had been accepted for inclusion at the George A. Spiva Center for the Arts‘ annual national photo competition.

On our return trip, we decided to drift over the stateline and explore southeast Kansas. As we were heading north, we suddenly spotted a small sign telling passersby that Big Brutus was just 13 miles off the beaten path. Well, with no timeline or agenda, your intrepid wanderers were off on a new adventure! We did indeed find the brute, but only after stumbling onto another magnificant photo op at a local train club having their meeting. They had refurbished train depots, all kinds of trains, including passenger cars and some really cool cabooses. Anyway, on to brutus. Big Brutus is a monster! The world’s second largest electric coal shovel, it towers 16 stories (160 feet) with a boom that is 150 feet long. The bucket on this behemoth has a capacity of 150 tons (enough to fill three railroad cars). Needless to say, Big Brutus is BIG! Additionally, the non-profit organization running the Big Brutus operation had a really BIG fee to go inside the fence for a closer look. Needless to say, we weren’t going to partake in their highway robbery, so we pulled out our BIG lenses and shot from the parking lot!!!

bigbrutussm

© 2009 Terry Ownby

Incongruity: Found American Cultural Objects

Four years ago I began a series of images that came to be through happenstance. In other words, I simply stumbled onto some unlikely situations as they presented themselves to me and I leveraged the photographic opportunity to my creative advantage. Since that serendipitous moment, I have actively sought out similar objects to photograph and so far, I’ve been nicely rewarded with different photographic opportunities.

I’m a big fan of taking road trips throughout the United States (something my father inflicted me with at an early age!) and these trips target my found American cultural objects. The thing is, these pop cultural objects are incongruous with their surroundings or sometimes just life in general. Americans seem infatuated with the notion that “bigger is better” and thus construct these larger-than-life edifices to commemorate this “bigness”.

On a recent trip to Nashville, home of the Grand Ole Opry, I intentionally detoured my road trip to the small Ohio River town of Metropolis, Illinois, home of America’s number one super hero—Superman. I’ve been here numerous times with my folks when I was a kid and had not been back in nearly 40 years, so I was very happy to see Superman still stood next to the court house. But to my surprise, I found another giant in town, Big John, standing vigilantly outside the Big John grocery store. What a deal…two giants for the price of one!

Giant Super Man--Metropolis, IL

Superman, © 2008, Terry Ownby.

Big John-Metropolis, IL

Big John, © 2008, Terry Ownby

Faux Dioramas

Some years ago I began manipulating my images in Photoshop with a combination of unsharp masking and Gaussian blur in an effort to replicate various camera techniques I’ve employed in my commercial work. Having used large-format cameras, such as 8x10s and 4x5s, for most of my professional career, I’ve come to appreciate how the camera movements can manipulate the final outcome of the image. One such technique is the Scheimpflug principle, which allows an apparent sharpness to appear throughout the image plane. Conversely, the photographer can employ an opposite camera movement, which results in extreme shallow focus, or what’s sometimes called selective focus.

Other camera techniques that add to the sense of selective focus include the use of plastic cameras such as the Holga or Diana. Another fun tool to use is the lens baby, which is very reminiscent of reversed Scheimpflug. Regardless, I have found that my understanding of these various tools and techniques can be readily adapted in Photoshop with just a few clicks of my mouse and some mental pre-visualization.

Resulting from this Photoshop employment, I have a developing body of work I call Faux Dioramas. A diorama is usually a small-scale model or set, similar to those made by model railroad enthusiasts. The fun part for me however, is photographing real situations such as structures or environmental landscapes, and then applying my faux techniques to emulate a miniature world. I’m not alone in this genre of photographic seeing. Toronto photographer, Toni Hafkenscheid has created a very interesting body of work employing a similar look. You can view his work on-line at thphotos.com or in Robert Hirsch’s book, Light and Lens: Photography in the Digital Age. Enjoy!

Faux diorama of Santuraio de Chimayo, NM.

© 2007 Terry Ownby, Enchanted Rituals.