First Night at Caddo Lake

By Brian Aldaco (Photographs by LEAP Center students unless otherwise noted)

Acclaimed photographer, Mark Burns, unveiled his National Parks Photography Project in 2016, displaying his black-and-white photographs at the Bush Presidential Library. After accomplishing this feat, Burns became the only photographer to capture all 59 national parks in black-and-white.

Mark Burns, National Parks, Photography, Craig Robbins
Photograph by Craig Robbins

Akin to Ansel Adams, Burns is drawn to the wilderness throughout his quest to capture the perfect image. After having portrayed the magnificence of sites across the United States, this Houston-based photographer was called back home to the beauty of his own state. Mark Burns has now begun his newest project: to photograph Caddo Lake in Uncertain, Texas.

Given its proximity to SHSU and the relationship that the LEAP Center has forged with Burns, the LEAP Ambassadors decided to initiate a documentary on Burns and his work.  Commissioning two MCOM students–including Sierra Dolch, who accompanied us on this trip–the Ambassadors, Dolch, and Burns set out for Caddo Lake.

This trip was primarily a scouting trip, a chance to find the most photogenic spots on the lake.  Later, we’ll return in the fall to exploit the season’s vivid colors and exploit our knowledge of the lake.

The excursion began on Friday, July 14, with thunderstorms hovering over us and lighting cracking through the heavy showers.  But as we arrived in the small town of Uncertain, TX (population 94), the skies cleared just enough to avoid rain, while still providing us with a nice photographic backdrop.

LEAP Center, Mark Burns, SHSU, Sierra Dolch, Documentary, Photography, Caddo Lake

Among the Spanish moss-covered cypress trees, we discovered Blue Herons…

Blue Heron, LEAP Center, SHSU, Mark Burns, Photography, Caddo Lake

salvinia, drifting water lilies, turtles, and egrets.

Egret, LEAP Center, SHSU, Documentary, Photography, Caddo Lake

Everyone was captivated by the lake’s fauna and flora as we glided over the serene water. The looming trees contrasting against the glistening water made for an endless vista that had us all amazed.

LEAP Center, SHSU, Documentary, Photography, Mark Burns, Caddo Lake

Yet, Mark’s ever-searching gaze never wavered. While we floated down the river, there were moments when he asked our boat’s captain, Wes Holland, to stop his vessel. Focused on the scene that had captured his attention, he set his camera, reflected, and shot.

LEAP Center, SHSU, Documentary, Photography, Mark Burns, Caddo Lake

Whether it was the creeping rays of a setting sun, the shine off the water lilies, or the glow of a sky at golden-hour, Mr. Burns knew what would look best through the lens of his cameras.

LEAP Center, SHSU, Documentary, Photography, Mark Burns, Caddo Lake

All the while, Sierra Dolch did her best to capture the environment in which Mark was observing and working…

LEAP Center, SHSU, Documentary, Photography, Mark Burns, Caddo Lake

Eventually, the sun’s last rays were nothing but vanishing purple and red streaks across the darkening sky…

LEAP Center, SHSU, Documentary, Photography, Mark Burns, Caddo Lake

…which made for a pretty soon, but soon led to decreased visibility, and we turned back for the shore.

The boat tour was made all the more pleasurable with the guidance of Captain Wes Holland…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Caddo Lake, Documentary, Mark Burns, Photography

…who kept us on time, on track, filled in some interesting facts about the lake, and even let Brian steer!

Mark Burns, SHSU, Docuementary, LEAP Center, Photography, Caddo Lake

But our learning experiences were not over!  In the hotel, we were joined by a second crew of LEAP Ambassadors who got a late start because of work.  When they arrived at the hotel, we gathered in a hotel room to learn about using film from a 4X5 camera, which Burns will use on this trip (and other trips).

LEAP Center, SHSU, Documentary, Photography, Mark Burns, Caddo Lake

With Sierra providing instruction to Brian, the camera was set, and we were ready for our group tutorial.  The film has to be kept in a cool environment, so Burns transports it in a cooler.  He then has to ready the film for use, which has to be done without exposing it…

LEAP Center, SHSU, Documentary, Photography, Mark Burns, Caddo Lake

…which is accomplished with a film-changing tent. This device allows the photographer to position the film in sleeves without exposing it.

LEAP Center, SHSU, Documentary, Photography, Mark Burns, Caddo Lake

It can be a cumbersome process, with the photographer using braille type markings to know how to position the film.  But Burns was able to prepare about ten frames of film and tutor us in about 15 minutes.  It was an interesting coda to an interesting day.

With that lesson fresh in our mind–along with the prospect of a four am wake-up call–we headed off to our rooms, armed with the prospect of another smile-inducing day ahead of us.

LEAP Center, SHSU, Documentary, Photography, Mark Burns, Caddo Lake




Author: mikeyawn

Mike Yawn teaches at Sam Houston State University. In the past few years, he has taught courses on Politics & Film, Public Policy, the Presidency, Media & Politics, Congress, Statistics, Research & Writing, Field Research, and Public Opinion. He has published academic papers in the Journal of Politics, Political Behavior, Social Security Quarterly, Film & History, American Politics Review, and contributed a chapter to the textbook Politics and Film. He also contributes columns, news analysis, and news stories to newspapers such as the Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Stamford Advocate, Greenwich Time, Huron Daily Tribune, Laredo Morning Times, Beaumont Enterprise, Connecticut Post, and Midland Reporter Telegram. Yawn is also active in his local community, serving on the board of directors of the local YMCA and Friends of the Wynne. Previously, he served on the Huntsville's Promise and Stan Musial World Series Boards of Directors. In 2007-2008, Yawn was one of eight scholars across the nation named as a Carnegie Civic Engagement Scholar by the Carnegie Foundation.

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