These are photographs I took during and after the April 22nd wildfire that reduced most of the Council Bluffs riverfront between the Veterans Memorial Bridge (South Omaha Bridge) and the Western Historic Trails Center to smoldering stumps and vast fields of white ash, fueled by strong wind, dead vegetation, and fallen timber that had been killed years ago by flooding of the Missouri River. Of course, the trees that were still standing after the fire appeared to be mostly alive judging from their fine branches and intact bark (dead and dying trees lose these over time). Even so, most of the standing trees were charred, more so toward the ground than up high.
In hindsight, I realize the poor judgment I exercised by entering the area the morning after the fire had been mostly contained. But curiosity doesn’t kill every cat, so I kept hiking farther and farther into the smoking woods long after my better judgment gave up on me. What I found upon arriving was a scorched scene not unlike that of the Yellowstone geyser basins we visited years ago, the place that truly sparked my interest in photography. Except that the heat from the fire was, at times, overwhelming and seemed to radiate from inconspicuous places along the path—a bed of underground coals where once lay a system of roots over here, a patch of white ash concealing a massive bed of embers over there. Unlike Yellowstone, there was no raised boardwalk trail to guide one from harm’s way, and I realized after I should have how easily a weakened tree, guts still afire, could have fallen on me. Indeed, I heard several fall in the distance while I was taking these photographs, and another landed with a tremendous thud not 50 yards away from me just before I decided to leave.
In these photographs, what looks like fog is smoke, smoke so dense that it made my eyes water continuously. When the wind died down, it was stifling, and when the wind picked up again, it was nearly unbearable until it had a chance to thin out. As of this writing, eleven days later, I can still smell the smoke on my camera and all the clothes I wore that morning, even though they’ve all been through the laundry.
I ask one favor before I go. If you have the means, please view these on a screen larger than a cell phone, at least the panoramas. Each was assembled from multiple frames and could be printed large enough to be a mural, so the thought of it appearing as a thin slice of pixels across a 5-inch screen is depressing.
And if you know anybody who might find these photographs interesting, please share them.
Here’s the 2017 installment of this series. A little smokier and brighter than last year, and a lot more light on the church from a big neighborhood show on South 3rd St. Happy Birthday, America!
Boy Scout Island, Lake Manawa. This was taken a few mornings ago. The air was incredibly still during the predawn hours, and there was just a smattering of clouds inching their way lazily toward the sun. Squadrons of white pelicans were overhead as if on patrol, leaving the water’s surface perfectly calm below them. Minutes later, the squadron came down to fish, shattering the mirror. These moments are rare and fleeting, and I always feel lucky to witness them firsthand.
Another incredible sunrise at Lake Manawa State Park, Council Bluffs, Iowa. I simply cannot get enough of this place.
Bayliss Park is hauntingly beautiful in the predawn fog. The fountain, the plaza, the performance space and canopy, they all complement each other amazingly well. The black squirrels, the splash area, the Veterans plaza, the meandering brick path, Music in the Park, Art in the Park, and, my goodness, all those amazing trees! What a great place. A grand vision executed with class and grace. Yet another beautiful part of Council Bluffs.
Boy Scout Island, Lake Manawa State Park, Council Bluffs, Iowa. Today (Sunday, September 18, 2016, noon to 4 pm) is day two of the Southwest Iowa Art Tour at the Harvester in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Here's the official Facebook invite for details. One of the unique aspects of the show is that artists are encouraged to create art while the show is going on. So I’ll be photographing some flowers alongside my print display. If any of this sounds interesting, please stop by.
Council Bluffs, Iowa. I’ve been planning this photograph for quite some time now, and all the necessary elements converged a few mornings ago. Thanks to the handful of drivers who unknowingly lent me their headlights/brakelights to create the rivers of light. I’m also excited to announce a new show that’s opening this Friday (September 2, 2016) from 4-8 pm at Everything Electric (5170 Leavenworth #200), a small gallery in Omaha, Nebraska. The show is called Vanishing, and it will feature a selection of my photographs that depict foggy sunrises around Council Bluffs and Omaha, most of which I’ve not yet shared on my website. A portion of any print sales will fund future print donations to Summer Bash for Childhood Cancer. I’ve donated prints for auction the past few years to help support this important fundraiser, whose goal is to support children with cancer and their families.
Backroads, Pottawattamie County, Iowa. Few things are more relaxing than exploring the backroads of rural Iowa, where antiquity, nature, and modernity all mingle in a slow-paced reverie. There doesn’t have to be any particular start point or end point. Wherever you are, at any given moment, is the destination, and that’s the greatest part. One mile of backroads and one hundred miles cover the same distance. The discovery, the renewal, the awakening, it’s just waiting there, all day long. You’re just along for the ride.
Lake Manawa State Park, Council Bluffs, Iowa. Lately, I’ve begun dreaming of the day when the first spot that comes to mind on a cold, foggy, windless morning isn’t the shore west of Boy Scout Island, where I’ve greeted countless sunrises since 2011. I can’t decide if my obsession with this place represents some type of photographic rut or if the near-daily visit to this spot serves as a ritual renewal of sorts, a desire to begin the day immersed in some semblance of nature. Either way, it’s one of my favorite places on earth, and even more so on a still, crisp morning, when the water is glass, making the lake and Boy Scout Island exactly twice as beautiful.
Lake Manawa, Council Bluffs, Iowa. Locals will know instantly exactly where this was taken. I’m so glad the rain has finally stopped. Happy May!
My daughter and I went on a riverfront hiking adventure a few nights ago, and this is one of the photos she was patient enough to let me stop and take. She was much more impressed by the soft river sand high on the bank than the pedestrian bridge or Omaha skyline. We started around sunset and stayed until we needed our flashlights to navigate our way back through the budding shrubs. And few things impress a four-year-old more than a flashlight, so needless to say, we had a great time. We’re planning on many more local adventures as the weather gets warmer.
Lake Manawa, Boy Scout Island, Council Bluffs, Iowa. This was taken a few mornings ago, when the air was crisp and the water was incredibly still. Just a reminder that Art at the Rock is two weeks away. I’ll have many big prints and new work. Bring your friends. Here's the official Facebook invite.
Later this month, I’ll be participating in a special art exhibit in Council Bluffs, Iowa, which will hopefully become a recurring event for art lovers and artists alike. And it’s particularly exciting for me because it will allow me the opportunity to show some of my larger prints, which don’t ordinarily get to see the light of day because they’re too big for most of my local shows. The show will be hosted by Rock, PaPer, Scissors salon, which is located in the Smith-Davis Building (north side of Bayliss Park, Council Bluffs; 532 1st Ave, Suite 204). March 26, 2016 (the day before Easter), from 4-7 pm.
This is the official invite on Facebook with further details.
Ice on the Missouri River at sunrise. This was taken on a recent cloudless subzero morning as the sun rose behind the opposite shore, instantly illuminating every whorl and puff of steam issuing from the river. It was one of those serene moments when the spinning ice discs make enough chatter to drown out the distant sounds of Monday-morning traffic.
A windmill along Woodland Trail in Council Bluffs. Know anything about those old farm implements on the right, along the fence? To me, they look like they might be old tractor seats, but what would a city boy know?