When the Sam Houston Memorial Museum offers a program, the LEAP Ambassadors do their best to attend. So when we saw that Derek Birdsall was offering a photography workshop, we made sure we were there.
Birdsall is the Museum’s Education Curator, and he is an accomplished photographer. While the original workshop was designed with an outdoor component, the weather did not cooperate, so we settled in for a slide show in the Museum’s theater.
We had a chance to see some of Birdsall’s photographs, and we were able to learn how he took the photograph and developed it. One we were particularly impressed with was his shot of a battleship.
We also learned a lot about photography principles. While some, such as the exposure triangle, was mostly review, we learned a lot about composition, particularly the “rule of thirds, which is illustrated below, from the website: www.fixthephotocom.
The idea is that if you think of your frame is nine equally sized squares (or four intersecting lines), the points of strongest interest are where the lines intersect. We have probably subconsciously evaluated our compositions in this manner, but we didn’t know the “rule,” nor the fact that most DSLRs provide a mode for a grid to be overlaid on your viewfinder, to help guide you.
We also had a chance to speak with Birdsall after the event…
…and that proved enlightening as well.
Many thanks to Birdsall and the SHMM for their always-quality programs!
The LEAP Center helped co-sponsor Mark Burns’ “Grand Canyon Photographs” Exhibit at the Walker Education Center, so it was with a slight disappointment to see the exhibit come to a close. But the exhibit lives on, finding a new home at the Pearl Fincher Fine Arts Museum in Spring, Texas. The set up for that exhibit took place on Friday, September 6, and we were there to take (a small) part.
Much goes into the hanging of a new exhibit, from spacing the pieces appropriately, to ensuring that the works are level…
…to getting the descriptions placed just right.
Of course, having been present at the opening for the Bush Presidential Library and the Walker Education Center, we’ve seen each of these photos multiple times. But Burns is introducing a few new photos for the Pearl Fincher show, and it is always nice to see the photos in a new environment, so we took another close look at each, while also helping a bit.
We each had our favorite, but there may be a general consensus that “CAVU” is a favorite of everyone’s.
CAVU, which stands for “Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited,” was President George H. W. Bush’s motto, one originating in his pilot days during WWII. Following his passing in November 2018, Mark–who was a personal friend of the President and the Bush family photographer–took a photograph that he believed captured the essence of the motto at the Grand Canyon.
Following a few more adjustments…
…and some cleaning…
…the setup was largely complete.
We’ll be back on September 17, when Burns will be present for the Opening Reception.
American photographer Mark Burns is no stranger to National Parks. From 2011-2016, he traveled to all 59 Parks in the country (there are now 61) and photographed them as part of his “National Parks Photography Project.” At the end of that project, he decided to embark upon a second project: capturing the diversity, beauty and wonder of the Grand Canyon in photographs for its 100th Anniversary as a National Park.
This event was particularly special for the LEAP Ambassadors, who have worked with Burns for the past three years. Worked “with” might be overdoing it a bit. We’ve been privileged to accompany him on several trips to National Parks, while also documenting some of his projects. So it was particularly nice to take part in this opening exhibit, which we helped sponsor.
With opening remarks from Casey Roon, the Exhibit Curator….
…and from the man of the hour, Mark Burns….
…who discussed the stories behind some of the photographs; the challenges associated with the weather, the crowds, and the travel….
…and then he encouraged guests to explore the gallery-including the Adams’ photos–and find their favorite.
As it turned out, there were almost as many favorites as there were guests in attendance….
Many guests were able to interact with Mark Burns and ask him about his work.
Speaking of guests, part of the evening’s fun was interacting with those on hand. It’s always great to spend time with Mac Woodward, the Museum Director; and we also had a chance to spend time with the Jim and Nancy Gaertner; Curtis and Lydia Montgomery; Scott and Mary McCarley; Derek Birdsall; Megan Buro; Ryan Brim; Megan Arnold; Anne Jamarik; Rosa Alvarez; Maggie Denena–even Maggie’s parents were there! Also, it was Victoria’s first official event as a LEAP Alum.
It’s always fun to spend time with friends, especially when surrounded by beautiful art. We encourage others to bring their friends and see the beautiful photographs before the exhibit moves to the Pearl Fincher Art Museum on September 5.
The LEAP Center has been productively working with Mark Burns for three years, and today we continued that partnership by promoting Burns’s “Grand Canyon Photographs: 1919-Celebrating the Centennial-2019” exhibit on KSAM and KHVL.
The exhibit is a partnership between the LEAP Center and the Sam Houston Memorial Museum, and the opening reception will be held in the Museum’s Walker Education Center gallery.
The on-air promotion began on KSAM’s Morning Show with Steve Rixx, and Mike Yawn, Mark Burns, and Maggie Denena shared their perspective on the exhibit.
The promotion continued when Larry Crippen had a chance to ask Mark Burns a few questions about the exhibit.
And it continued with Burns, Yawn, and Denena again sharing perspectives on KHVL with Bryan Reeder. While Maggie hasn’t been part of the entire three-year project, she has been as active as any other student in the project. She was hired with funds provided by the EURECA Center (a FAST Grant) and has been able to travel to ten different National Parks, learning about photography and the environment, and exploring a large portion of the United States.
“This project allowed me to visit my first National Park, which was the Grand Canyon. That was just a year ago, and now I’ve had the chance to visit my first ten National Parks. It’s been very exciting, I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to see Mark’s photograph process, from the scouting, to the set-up, to finding just the right weather conditions. It’s rare to find a fun and educational project, but this has definitely been just such a project.”
The “Grand Canyon Photographs” exhibit opened on Tuesday, June 11, but the opening reception is tonight at the Walker Education Center from 5:30-7:00pm, with remarks at 6:00pm.
Over the past few years, the LEAP Ambassadors have been working on a documentary film project on photographer Mark Burns. The project has brought us many opportunities, such as visiting National Parks, but also learning about photography and developing a friendship with Mr. Burns. Last week, we had a chance to develop that further by attending (and filming) his presentation at the Bush Presidential Library, where he was featured in an “Issues Forum” on photography and the Grand Canyon.
The event started with a brief introduction of Burns by Warren Finch (Director of the Bush Library)…
…before Burns took the stage.
He led a comfortable and informal talk, showcasing the photos he took of the Grand Canyon.
He began by providing insight on his intuitions regarding the Grand Canyon. He recalled a day of taking photos in the canyon and overhearing a father tell his daughter that the canyon is the result of what the Colorado River has done over thousands of years. He remembers thinking, “it’s not what is did, it’s what it is doing right now,” underscoring the fact that the Colorado continues to work on the western soil. Then, he detailed the thought and stories behind some of his favorite photos. My favorite story was the one he told about when he took his famous photo of Horseshoe Bend.
The steepness of the cliff overlooking the Colorado River made it impossible to obtain a photo of the entire landscape. To compensate, Burns laid prone and hung his camera along with both of his arms over the cliff in order to take the picture. Luckily, the end result was worth it.
Burns has a precise approach to his photography, doing heavy front-loaded research prior to traveling to his destination. He can provide a strong estimate of cloud cover, while knowing exactly where the sun or moon will be rising and at what time.
This is prevalent in photos such as “Winter Solstice Moon” and “Wotan’s Throne Sunset,” both of which were timed to showcase the best of the Canyon.
After the talk, the audience filed into the main lobby for snacks and drinks. The Ambassadors took this time to tour the exhibit and quickly run through the museum since some of us had never seen all of it.
For about an hour, we indulged in art and history through presidencies and time.
When the time came for us to leave, we felt enriched with new knowledge.
The LEAP Ambassadors once again jumped at the opportunity to see a Mark Burns’ exhibit, which are always enlightening and enjoyable. To us, he is a friend and mentor, but to others he is an American photographer best known for his work on the “National Parks Project.”
He has been featured in publications such as Time, The Sporting News, and The Atlantic, and this past week, he was featured at the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, TX. The occasion was the 100th Anniversary of the Grand Canyon’s designation as a National Park. The exhibit, consisting of approximately 30 photographs of the Grand Canyon, displays Burns’ versatility as a photographer.
We arrived early, and since this was Samantha Piedra-Lujan’s first visit to the Bush Library (actually, any Presidential Library), we took a photo of her in front of the entrance.
When we entered, we joined approximately 240 others, who were in for an event treat, one staged by Tracy Paine, the Museum’s Events Director, who arranged for a band…
…and a nice spread of food. While there, we met Dr. Bob Holzweiss, the Deputy Director of the Bush Presidential Library, and Dan and Donna Beto, Bearkat alums, who are great supporters of SHSU.
Soon, people gathered in the lobby for brief remarks, after which the exhibit would be unveiled. Bush Library Director Warren Finch introduced Mark Burns…
…noting that this is the third exhibit the Museum has hosted for Mr. Burns and highlighting the special place that the Grand Canyon holds for US citizens.
When the microphone was turned over to Burns, the photographer briskly approached the microphone and discussed the overall theme of the exhibit: “Time.”
He discussed the long-term development of the Canyon, noting that it is continuing to evolve, even as we speak, and pointing out that its designation as a park is only a miniscule fraction of the time that the Colorado has been working its magic in north-central Arizona.
Burns continued to speak about the effect of the Canyon on him, as well as the humility that comes from traveling to and photographing something so majestic.
When Burns completed his introduction to the exhibit, the curtain rose, and the Museum’s guests could visit explore the many images captured by Burns.
These photos hold a special place for us, because we’ve been to many of these locations and, in some cases, we were with Burns’ while he took the photos.
As these images suggest, Burns is often praised for his “photographer’s eye.” His images evince a strong composition, along with the sophisticated technical skills of a photographic craftsman. The depth of field, for example, in the photo below, for example, is astounding…
..and complements his use of available light to provide balance between the foreground and background.
Burns also incorporated some conceptual art…
…such as the piece above, which depicts a rock at the Canyon, and Burns’s hands emerging, a metaphor for “man emerging from earth.” The hands are Burns, and the crack is a rough estimate of the time that man-like species have been on the planet relative to other species.
The other guests at the exhibit seemed to enjoy the photos as much as we did, and there were many animated conversations about which photograph was the best.
For us, we allowed Samantha to choose, and we all approved her choice and took a selfie to commemorate the occasion.
Before leaving, we grabbed a photo with Burns…
…and then we took advantage of the open Museum to do a quick run-through with Samantha, who primped for the camera.
With a final look at the gallery, some last-minute photographs…
…we said our goodbyes, and we headed for Café Eccel.
We ordered the Mediterranean platter and tableside guacamole for appetizers, with the latter being particularly good. The entrees were also excellent, with the reuben, the texican fried chicken, the poblano soup, and the gourmet grilled cheese standing out.
As our last full day at Caddo Lake has finally arrived. Although there was a hint of melancholy as our trip is drawing to an end, there was still much more adventures to dive into throughout the day.
Caddo Lake State Park, By Brian Aldaco
Throughout the trip we observed Mark Burns perform his photography with his digital Nikon cameras. However, on Saturday we witnessed his talents in the older art of photography when he used his 8×10 large format camera to capture the sylvan beauty of the Caddo Lake State Park.
Mr. Burns positioned himself at the end of the pier.
He framed his camera to photograph a water full of giant salvinia in the foreground and the towering cypress trees in the background. As he was setting up this grandfather of a camera, Mr. Burns gave Makayla and Ryan a chance to see through the camera’s window-like view finder. Due to the behavior of light when passing through an aperture, the image that appears on this glass surface is upside down and reversed. As Mr. Burns explained, “you’re not looking through the view finder, you’re looking at it.” Projected on this glass surface, Ryan and Makayla looked at this parallel photographic universe, where reality was reversed and upside down.
As part of the documentary, every action taken by Mr. Burns was videoed and photographed.
Whether he was setting up his camera, cleaning a lens, or looking for the perfect scenery, there was always a lens pointing his way.
With this entourage of cameras, we took an opportunity to get photos with Burns…
…and then we relocated from the peer to an amphitheater located across the roadway from lake.
Again, cameras were positioned, microphones were set, and the interview proctored by Professor Yawn began.
Topics included Mr. Burn’s photography preparation work, how he developed an interest for photography, and his overall experience in Caddo Lake. The interview will add an educational perspective to the documentary.
Canoeing at Caddo, By Ryan Knesek
In addition to the guided tours of Caddo Lake, LEAP Ambassadors braved the waters in a three-person canoe. This experience took place at Johnson’s Ranch Marina where Ambassadors were given a warm welcome and a crash course in the basics of water safety. These soon came in handy, but more on that momentarily. We were given a quick run-down of maritime law. For example, we now know that when meeting an incoming boat, the port side is where to meet from.
After we secured our life-vests, grabbed our paddles, and settled ourselves in the canoe, we headed off into the watery voyage of Caddo Lake.
Ducks, herons, and the occasional squirt greeted the sailors with every stroke of the paddle, all while the noon-time sun created ideal temperatures well complimented with a brisk breeze. New angles of filmography, as well as the proximity to water created a new environment for the lake that we appreciated.
But our appreciation for the lake’s waters became more personal. LEAP ambassadors took advantage of the situation by taking a swim in the lake, begrudgingly of course. After a brief miscalculation, Ryan, Makayla, and Christina capsized on the canoe. All three were launched off their boat and were rescued by fishermen moments later. The brisk water turned frigid, but luckily it did not take away from the experience, and, as a result, the event will be remembered by all members for some-time to come.
The Last Tour, By Makayla Mason
After I washed up at the hotel (and made sure I had not welcomed any uninvited lake creature) we grabbed a quick lunch at Central Perks before heading off to our last Caddo Lake tour.
As we made our way to our final boat tour of Caddo Lake, we were a little sad that it was coming to an end.
The weather was perfect and with just a few clouds in the sky, there was a sunset glow on the autumn leaves.
We were able to see parts of the lake we had not seen previously and took as many videos and pictures as we could.
Aaron even took us to see Don Henley’s house!
Legend has it, that this Eagles rock star wrote the lyrics to “The End of Innocence” along the banks of Caddo Lake.
As we pulled into the dock the cotton candy sky waved goodbye to us and we left Caddo Lake with an abundance of memories.
Third Time’s a Charm, By Christina Perez
Before heading back to the hotel, we stopped to have dinner at our now favorite Marshall pizza joint, Pazzeria by Pietro’s. This was our third time at Pietro’s pizzeria but we were not complaining.
Brian was excited to try another tasty pizza from the interesting menu! He had already tried the Philly Connection, a philly-cheese-steak-style pizza, the night before so today he decided on the Hawaiian Luau. Makayla on the other hand tried their meatballs with cheese sprinkled on top. After dinner, we each had dessert. Sarah and Sierra tried their famous cheesecake while I had the vanilla bean gelato.
With a satisfied sweet tooth, we left feeling sad that our Caddo Lake adventure was now over. Throughout the weekend we have learned much about photography from the experienced Mark Burns and are ready to use our skills in the future. Furthermore, we are closer at completing our documentary. Perhaps, as the autumn leaves of the Caddo cypress completely fall and give way to a green-filled swamp, our project will be complete and ready for viewing.
The sun slowly peeked its rays through the cypress trees, and the glow from the horizon steadily became warmer and stronger. As the light spread across the land below, the Leap Ambassadors began waking up from their groggy states–as did the wildlife that surrounded them. It was the LEAPsters’ second sunrise at Caddo Lake. This time, Mr. Burns and the others sat in the still water, waiting for the golden-hour (actually about 20 minutes) of warm lighting.
Suddenly, red, orange, and purple flooded the sky.
The perfect lighting was upon us. Mark reached for his Nikon and began to shoot.
As the sun emerged from the horizon, Mark continued to shoot…
…and we joined in, pausing to enjoy the prettiest of the tours on which we had gone.
Mark then directed the captain to a new destination…
…one we had seen several times with productive results. Once we arrived at the spot, the area’s salvinia invasion was noticeably present. Benign as these water herbs may seem, they pose a true threat to the ecosystem of the lake. This floating fern has endlessly propagated itself throughout the lake causing many problems over the past years. Stealing precious oxygen from the waters, making boat travel impossible in some areas, and having them at every corner has created an overall nuisance for the prosperity of the locals. Wes, enthusiastically explained how local and state entities are currently attempting to develop an effective method to eradicate this pest. Although it is our hope to see this threat neutralized the next time we visit Caddo Lake, it seems that a successful extermination strategy has yet to surface.
However, Caddo Lake perseveres, and is in fact, teeming with life of all shapes and sizes, even wing spans!
As we were wrapping up our tour, we pleaded to our captain to take us to a location where we could catch one last glimpse at the wildlife. It didn’t take much pondering before Wes quickly turned his boat and lead us to the perfect location.
Crossing an archway of cypress, the woods resembled an aviary sanctuary. A blue heron soaring over the water one second, a white egret creeping through trees the next, or the vanishing sight of flying black-bellied whistling ducks, made for sights begging to get photographed. With cameras to spare, everyone was quick to photograph or record this bountiful wildlife.
Egret Surrounded by Salvania
Wes also provided more of his knowledge of the lake, showing the students lily pads, and the way that they react to water.
We really can’t say enough good things about Wes or his Caddo Lake Tour Co. We heartily recommend his tours to anyone contemplating a Caddo Lake visit.
After a couple hours of floating on the river…
…we stopped our photography, enjoyed the ride…
…and we returned to terra firma and drove to our next shooting location: the Caddo Lake State Park.
Although Burns was not going to shoot any film this time, but instead be filmed as he walked us through the process to prepare a shot with his 4X5 camera. He explained that, on average, this procedure lasts around 15 minutes.
Every component should be set with extreme caution as it is imperative that the camera stand absolutely still. With a self-deprecating smile, Burns told us how after tedious preparation of this same camera for a photo session of Reliant Stadium, it all went to waste when his leg got tangled with the camera, knocking everything into a state of disarray. As Burns had no film or intentions to photograph anything, he was comfortable letting us approach the camera to look through the view-finder.
Under the hood of the camera, we all took turns to look at this upside-down, inverted image of the scene created by the optics. Walking through every step in how the camera functions and how to set it, Mark Burns held the attention of the Leap Ambassadors captive. Even, Sierra was fascinated, as she approached the camera to record the aperture in motion.
Finally, it was time to depart from Caddo Lake.
After carrying the bags of camera gadgets and lenses, we said farewell to Mark. Although our scouting trip at Caddo Lake was temporarily over, we looked forward to seeing Mr. Burns again soon. He had opened up a whole new world to us. One in which we did not just gaze at the wonders the world had to offer, but were able to capture it.
We were sad to leave this magical place, but we had to perk up as our adventures was far from over!
Kaitlyn- The Grove
This trip has been full of many new and exciting experiences. Our next stop was no exception. We traveled a short distance from Marshall to Jefferson to visit the Grove, also known as the Stilley-Young House. Registered in the National Registry of Historic Places and recorded as a Texas Historic Landmark, the Grove was built in 1861 as a wedding gift for Frank and Minerva Stilley. Small, this home had the exterior of a Greek Revival architecture, while the interior was in a French Creole style.
However, it was not necessarily the architecture, or its age that lead us here. No, it was something much more than that. You see, the Grove was one of the top Haunted Houses in the Lone Star State. For the first time in LEAP history, the ambassadors were going on a historic home/ghost tour!
Our tour began on the front porch, where Mr. Mitchel Whitington, the current owner of the house, greeted us. He briefly introduced us to the history of the different generations of families that had lived at the Grove. Everyone waited outside semi-impatiently. We were about to enter in a widely-rumored haunted house. It didn’t help that it was scorching hot outside and we were dripping in sweat. Thankfully, after putting our medical booties on, we were moved out of the East Texas heat and into the formal dining room and parlor of the home. Not only did the tour guide describe the history of the Grove’s numerous owners, but he also discussed interesting ghost stories during the first stop of our tour. Although any mention of ghosts made some LEAP Ambassadors uneasy, the tour guide tried to put us at ease by explaining that all the ghosts in the home so far have been friendly.
Since the home is over 150 years old, it’s history is rich and fairly-well documented. Throughout its entire life, the home only had two major renovations completed throughout which helped preserve the original style of the home. Each room of the home, was particular to a family member. Throughout the tour Mr. Whitington enthusiastically told us the ghost stories and tales which allowed visitors to gain a sense of understanding about the homeowners who had cherished their home so much that they still returned to this day (now as ghosts) to make sure that their beloved home was still in good hands.
We toured the informal dining room, family room, and utility room before finishing our tour in the kitchen addition. Interestingly enough, the house surprised us with two different items. One of them being an art piece by George Rodrigue, the Blue Dog. This particular Blue Dog was depicted in a dark, gloomy forest to go along with the theme of the haunted house. The second item was a statuette nicknamed the “Bird Girl”. The Bird Girl was first introduced to the LEAP ambassadors, Brian Aldaco and Kaitlyn Tyra, when they read the book “Midnight in Garden of Good and Evil” as preparation for their Savannah trip. Rumored to only be 4 original statues created, finding even a replica was astounding.
It’s safe to say the Ambassadors had never visited a haunted historic home before and certainly not one that was recognized in by magazines such as Texas Highways, or the Dallas Morning News! Although some enjoyed the tour more than others, we left with much to talk about and an appetite ready to be fulfilled by lunch!
Christina- Downtown Jefferson and the General Store
Just before heading home we decided to visit the City of Jefferson, Texas. Jefferson is a small town perfect for a leisure-filled weekend. Its architecture is, in places, similar to New Orleans, with its shops, antiques, and family-owned restaurants. Our lunch stop was Kitt’s Kornbread Sandwich and Pie Bar, which is known for its diverse options of Cornbread Sandwiches. My sandwich was called “The Irish” and contained corned beef, tomatoes and onions in between two slices of cornbread. We couldn’t leave without trying one of the many pies listed on the menu. We ordered chocolate pecan pie, very berry pie, and bread pudding all with a scoop of sweet vanilla ice cream. Surprisingly, Chocolate Pecan won the most votes in favorite flavor.
It’s also worth noting, that we saw a Charlie Chaplin image, of note because Brian dresses as Chaplin each year for Halloween. Aldaco good-naturedly posed with the sign, contorting himself to cover “restrooms.”
We also decided to stop at the Jefferson General Store before getting back to Huntsville. The General store sold many old school items including Candy, socks, shirts, toys, home décor, and many other objects. Some of us bought candy to cure our aching sweet tooth, while others bought toys. Overall, our stop in Jefferson was a success and finally it was time to go to our own small town of Huntsville.