At the side of the road two crumbling walls converge, long sweeps of winter grass spill wavelike over the stones. In every direction tall grass prairie stretches toward the horizon, an inland ocean. For a moment the dry panorama is replaced by a vision of the vast inland sea which once covered the area. Deep below the surface, aquatic life is spinning, each generation leaving a trace behind, layers building on layers. In bright flashes the waters surrender again to land, leaving me once more on this isolated patch of dust, where I contemplate the fossil patterns left etched into this Flint Hills “sea wall”. There is such detail in the tracings, as if they existed only a moment ago.
When asked, we artists often say it’s the vast, un-peopled spaces that inspire us, or the over-arching meditation of our skies, the unreachable horizons. That’s all true, of course. But there’s also a deeper thing that keeps calling me back. It’s the way a perception of time changes in these hills. It’s easier to be mindful here. It’s natural to feel more grounded in the world, that there is a nobility to being a player in this immense sweep of time. Out here, we are compelled to take a longer view.
Existence feels durable in the Flint Hills, where a hard rock spine protects them from the plow. When I escape the attention-deficit city for these quiet spaces, I shake off the thoughts that life and the land we inherit is disposable. History coexists with the now so adeptly in the Flint Hills that there is a sense that our future does too. It’s calming, naturally optimistic.
Except for the companionship of the wind and crunch of limestone under tires, it’s quiet on the tall grass prairie. The only other people I see are ranchers whose heavy trucks turn onto private access roads and disappear into the folds of the hills. The tough job of working the landscape is a daily ritual, watching out for the health and needs of the herds.
My admiration deepens as I get to know them, to ride along as they do chores. An artistic documentation of the people who work the land has become the most meaningful thing I do with camera.
I suppose a big piece of personal style also arises from an early love for snapshots taken with simple cameras. I love the freshness of spontaneous images. My current equipment is anything but simple – I believe in using all of the advantages available to us now – but I still gravitate to a casual aesthetic, and prefer candid, un-posed studies.
I was introduced to photography when very young. My older brothers put a darkroom into the closet of an upstairs bathroom. They taught me how to develop the film from our Hawkeye Brownie, using chemicals to transform it into usable negatives. Next, they were placed in a silver metal box, on a piece of milk glass above a light bulb, which was used to expose photo paper. Under an amber safe light we watched the image appear as we moved the paper through another set of baths. I studied art and photography at the college level, but the real spin came from those earliest days.
I am an eclectic photographer, which follows from my use of photography as a tool for exploration and discovery. I’m possessed by a passion for snooping into natural phenomena in all of its manifestations. I find as much charm in the rich weediness of a Chase County ditch as in a formal garden. Vine-wrapped limestone ruins seem as beautiful to me as the most elegant modern architecture. I enjoy photography’s ability to uncover detail in nature that normally escapes our eye.
I believe in becoming immersed in the subject. It isn’t uncommon for me to return home soaking wet, or caked with mud. The knees of my jeans have permanent grass stains. Chiggers and ticks know me by name.
About the photographer:
Dave Leiker, of Emporia, draws on a half-century of experience in photography enhanced with a strong foundation in technology, and studies in biology. His photos are widely used for decor and publications by universities and school systems. He is a frequent contributor to the Flint Hills Review, providing both cover and inside art for the past three issues. His photos grace the cover of several books of poetry and prose, among them two Kansas Notable Book Award winners.
Dave Leiker hosts a number of web resources including PrairieDust, Kansas Photos, and along with his wife, writer Cheryl Unruh, provides the rich Flyover People collectionRecent exhibitions include A Working Landscape at The Gallery at Pioneer Bluffs, the Six Shooters show at the Coutts Museum of Art in El Dorado, Visions of the Flint Hills in Kansas City, Lenses of the Flint Hills, and Iconic Kansas.
He is, by profession, a web and electronic media manager for Emporia Public Schools.
Samples of Dave Leiker’s work can be found in the “galleries” section of the Flyover People web site: http://flyoverpeople.net/galleries.htm