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Capturing the Old and Weathered
Mar 5, 2013
A couple weekends ago, I fell victim to another case of cabin fever … What am I talking about? It happens every weekend nowadays. There is always mail to be read and bills to pay, but it doesn’t matter. There is cleaning to do and usually dirty laundry waiting, but that certainly won’t keep me inside when the fever hits. In fact, there are no amounts of classic movies or great new television shows recorded on the DVR that will stop me. When the sun begins to make its decent in the lower western sky on a Saturday or Sunday evening I’m gone. The same holds true when certain weather events make conditions ripe for a great photo. Phenomena like fog, frost and thunderstorms usually get my engine racing as well.
Weather conditions only make half the photo though. I believe a good weather photographic has to have a scene or place to anchor our ever-changing South Dakota climate patterns. Over the last few years I’ve found myself drawn to symbolic structures of our past like country churches, old weathered barns, homes and schoolhouses to do this. Typically I like to find these buildings out in the open and away from tree belts in order to get an unbroken view of the horizon. However, interesting structures in and around trees are not discarded on my map. I make a mental note of these for the foggy winter days that produce hoarfrost. Those few still, frosty mornings where Jack Frost made magic provide photographic gold if you happen upon the right scene. It’s good to have these places mapped out ahead of time as I’ve found the best time to shoot frost rarely lingers. When the sun gets high enough in the sky to lift the fog, it usually doesn’t take long for the wind to pick up and start undressing the flocked landscape.
Back in the middle part of the ‘90s, when I took my first photography class in college. I learned to process black and white film in the dark room and how to dodge and burn prints. The following summer I always had my dad’s Argus film camera nearby while out on the farm. Just a quarter mile from our farmhouse stood the one room schoolhouse that my mother attended as a child. One hot July day we had a good old-fashioned thunder boomer roll in from the west. As soon as it passed over, I grabbed the Argus and jumped into our old Ford work truck and headed for the schoolhouse. I shot a whole roll that evening. Out of it came maybe three usable shots. One of them I’ve included here. The schoolhouse was since burned down. I’m glad I had the shutterbug fever back then otherwise I wouldn’t have anything but a memory of that old building.
Maybe that is why I’m still drawn to such structures when looking for great South Dakota photos and maybe that is why images of old barns and buildings still resonate with people today. There is a sense of history and a feeling of “remembering our roots” that these images can evoke. It is yet another reason that I like photography. An image made is an image saved and stored forever. That old schoolhouse was a play land for me when I was young and a place of work as I got older. It was a place of learning for my mom and now it is gone and lives only in our memories … and in a couple photos I took under a dark and stormy sky one summer long ago.
Christian Begeman grew up in Isabel and now lives in Sioux Falls. When he's not working at Midcontinent Communications he is often on the road photographing our prettiest spots around the state. Follow Begeman on his blog.