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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Framing place photography

“Druid culture” may seem dead, but some humans still dwell in those intricate spaces between spirit and nature.
Bill Witt, an Iowan photographer who finds spiritual solace in the prairie, epitomizes the modern druid—in so far as he remains powerfully connect to the natural world around him. This past Wednesday at 4:15 in Bucksbaum 152, Witt presented a select collection of his photos to the Grinnell community, primarily faculty. While Witt’s photographic career did not reach fruition until after retirement, he’s been snapping prairie landscapes since he was eighteen.
Witt’s presentation serves as the third and final installment of the “One Place, Three Lenses” photography series arranged by the Center for Prairie Studies. “The objective of ‘One Place, Three Lenses’ was to examine the work of photographers at work in Iowa, and discover our identity as Iowan inhabitants,” said Jon Andelson, Anthropology and Director of the Center for Prairie Studies. The series investigated other facets of Iowan culture—the two preceding guest photographers presented on urban work as well.
Despite proceeding more or less informally, the presentation was smooth and welcoming. After briefly introducing himself and his work, Witt read a lengthy excerpt from his most recent publication Enchanted by Prairie. Accompanied by poetry chockfull of double entendres that reference nature, the publication catalogs over thirty years of Witt’s visits to twenty-nine prairies—only one of which is an artificial reconstruction, all the others have endured naturally. To visually convey his message, slides of Witt’s photos glossed over the projector screen throughout the reading.
When his reading finished, Witt asked the audience which direction they would like the presentation to ensue—historical anecdotes about the photographs or artistic analysis. The latter received unanimous agreement. Many insightful critiques were offered from both the creator and the audience. This reporter especially enjoyed Barb Stahl’s distinction between personal and representative photographs. While personal photographs are artistically subjective and capture precise moments, representative photos portray scenes more conventionally and objectively. “The close proximity and unique conditions in certain photos show that [Witt] was keenly observing the prairie,” said Stahl. One particular photograph capturing a monarch butterfly perched plumb upon a tall purple snapdragon justifies a personal photograph. However, Witt is more renowned for his representative depictions of vast rolling prairies and immense sweeping skies.
As expected, the event closed with a brief commercial advertisement for his book. As a true prairie fanatic, however, Witt said, “The performances of a prairie will go on regardless of whether we are there. The prairie doesn’t need to advertise.”

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