I spend a lot of my professional and personal time experiencing and learning about the prairie. My work at Missouri Naturalist is primarily focused on publication and documenting the prairie ecosystem with the use of modern DSLR equipment. I needed a way to slow down and convey my love, appreciation, and experiences while on the prairie. My way of slowing down is with the use of large format camera systems and sheet film. Choosing large format was a conscience choice because it is a very slow and methodical way to photograph any subject and this is exactly the contemplative approach that I need to express my experiences of Missouri’s fleeting tallgrass prairie. You will be able to follow my journey by searching for the hashtag #PrairieFineArt on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
With total control over the focal plane, distribution of light, and all creative aspects of my traditional analog process, I am able to express and share my experiences on the prairie with others in a way that comes close to what I see and feel while I am there. I will be creating one of a kind large black and white and color hand made gallery prints suitable for collectors and those that appreciate fine art. The gallery prints are ideal to display in public buildings and corporate venues to help promote awareness of Missouri’s natural resource challenges. At this point, I expect to be using my 4×5, 8×10, and 11×14 large format systems to create the gallery prints. I will know more and keep everyone updated as I make progress in the field.
Once I formalize the opening gallery event, I will post an update on this website with the information. You can view the print as they are made along with my other fine art prints on my website at www.timlaytonfineart.com. I will be working with Frank Dries, my assistant and large format photographer in training to create these images of Missouri’s tallgrass prairie before they are lost forever. We will keep everyone informed as we are in the field and working in the darkroom.
Although the fragments that we see today of Missouri’s once lush and engulfing prairie ecosystem is very small, the beauty and significance of them remain unparalleled. The tallgrass prairie is an ecosystem is native to central North America, and in particular to Missouri. The tallgrass prairie is part of Missouri’s natural history and has been an important part of the last 10,000 years.
Prior to widespread utilization of the steel plow, which enabled conversion to agricultural land use, tallgrass prairies expanded throughout Missouri from the transitional ecotones out of eastern North American forests, west to a climatic threshold based on precipitation and soils, to the southern reaches of the Flint Hills in Oklahoma, to a transition into forest in Manitoba.
Retreating glaciers deposited the parent material for soil in the form of till, i.e. unsorted sediment about 10,000 years ago. Wind dropped loess and organic matter accumulated resulting in the deepest level of topsoil recorded anywhere. Animals like buffalo,elk, deer and rabbits added nitrogen to the soil through urine and feces. Prairie dogs, a ground squirrel-like rodent considered a keystone species, dug tunnels that “aerated the soil and channeled water several feet below the surface”.
During 5000 to 8000 years, more than 240 million acres of prairie grasslands were a major feature of the landscape. Between 1800 and 1930 the vast majority were destroyed. Settlers transformed what they named “The Great American Desert”, or “The Inland Sea” into farmland. Major reasons for the prairie’s demise were the confined grazing pattern of European cattle versus bison, the near extermination of prairie dogs, and finally the plowing and cultivation of the land, which breached the root systems and interrupted the reproduction of the tall grasses. Furthermore, extensive tile drainage has changed the soil’s water content and hydrodynamics, and ongoing soil erosion results in its increasing loss.
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Analog Film Photography Blog
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All text and images copyright © Tim Layton Sr. 1983 – 2014