A few weeks ago, I drove back to the Wichita area to visit my parents.  I exited the turnpike at the El Dorado exit and took Highway 254 to Wichita.  A beautiful red barn used to stand at the exit for Towanda, together with a silo with the word “Towanda” on it, the “W” purposely pitched off kilter.  I say “used to stand” because the whole shebang was destroyed by powerful thunderstorm winds in early May 2009.  I was in Wichita the weekend it happened, sitting at my dad’s bedside after unexpected bypass surgery.  When I headed home after he was on the road to recovery, I was shocked and dismayed to see the beautiful barn and quirky silo lying in a pile of rubble.  Each time I’ve been back there since, I say to myself “It looks so weird here without that barn.” 

I’m so glad I got a couple shots of that scene before Mother Nature took it.

Towanda barn

Another landmark I photographed in its day was a vine-enshrouded windmill which stood off Highway 54 right outside the Cheney exit.  To date, this remains one of my favorite windmill shots.  Unfortunately, it also met its demise nearly 20 years ago.

Windmill near Cheney

Photography not only feeds our senses, it also preserves a slice of history – a specific moment in time.  We all know how important family photographs are.  That quick photo we snap of our kids or Grandma will endure for generations to enjoy.  I have photos of my great-grandparents holding me as a baby. They died when I was very small, and I never knew them, yet because of the photos I can at least see what they looked like.

Many animals species are on the brink of extinction.  Photographs will at least preserve for future generations what these creatures looked like, and can also be used to campaign for changes that might in fact save them.  If people can see a photograph of an animal that is in danger of extinction and be made aware of changes that could be made to save it, they can connect and will be more likely to want to do something.

Same thing goes for climate change.  Glaciers are disappearing at an alarming rate.  Pests and diseases that normally would die during winter are wreaking havoc on our natural resources.  One good example is the pine beetle that is eating through the lodgepole pine forests of North America at an alarming rate. It has been suggested that the beetles are thriving because the winters do not get cold enough anymore to kill them off. They have destroyed thousands and thousands of acres of established forests, and the end is nowhere in sight.  I took photos from a viewpoint on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park about four years ago which showed lush, healthy trees as far as the eye could see.  In 2008, my husband and I returned to the same area only to find the forest practically destroyed, with very few healthy trees remaining.  The area around Grand Lake has been particularly hard-hit.  The city has even undertaken a major effort to remove the dead trees.

Brown trees ravaged by pine beetle, Rocky Mtn. NP (west of the divide)

Trees killed by pine beetle, Kawuneeche Valley, Rocky Mtn. NP (west of divide)

Photography is a powerful tool we can use to make people aware of animals on the brink, environmental pollution, destruction of natural resources, and climate change, among other things.

Think of that the next time you get your camera out.  Photography truly preserves our history.
Please feel free to leave a comment or remark about this topic.
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