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A Heritage on Film

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Published on: Nov. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 25, 2010

His message comes across in black and white photographs of autumn leaves floating in a stream near Potosi, a bank of lush ivy along the KATY Trail, an abandoned farmhouse in south central Missouri. Bob Lindholm's sensitive photographic images confront us with what we've saved and what we've lost so far, in terms of our natural and cultural history.

Until he retired from the Attorney General's office in 1993 at age 58, most of Lindholm's work dealt with the aftermath of alleged environmental violations; for 22 years, the State of Missouri was his client. Now, when he says, "My children are my clients," it's apparent he means everyone's children. He's turned all his attention to helping preserve the natural world for them through his photos and words.

This mission began during his years with the state. "I noticed how many people really don't appreciate our natural resources," he says. "I began to think, there's got to be a way to communicate how valuable they are to us." He turned to photography to promote respect for the treasures of nature.

He looked for places for his message. An exhibit of 35 photos traveled to 24 national park sites, and he produced duplicate exhibits for President Jimmy Carter and the U.S. Congress. His photos have appeared in the Conservationist, Missouri Life, American Land Forum, Outdoor America and Outdoors Unlimited. He's been a contributor to Shutterbug, Photographic, Photomethods, Camera 35 and Hasselblad.

The Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute, which deals with issues in the Lake Superior region, illustrated its 1985 report with Lindholm's photos. The Sierra Club named him recipient of its 1986 Ansel Adams Award for using photographs to further the cause of conservation.

Lindholm is a Missouri Chapter Trustee for the Nature Conservancy, and his photos have been published in chapter bulletins. The chapter sponsored an exhibit of his work in St. Louis in 1991.

In the July 1987 issue of Photomethods, his article "The Persuasive Camera" noted that Carleton Watkins' photos of Yosemite, William Henry Jackson's views of Yellowstone, and Ansel Adams' images of Kings Canyon helped save the national heritage.

In Missouri, Oliver Schuchard's poster of the free-flowing Meramec helped stop a dam project. "The inner satisfaction given photographers when recording light and shadows," Lindholm wrote, "needs to be utilized to influence others by creating that awareness of our world's balanced and beautiful life support systems." The world's beauty, he says, is an indicator of its health.

A major project has taken Lindholm from the East Coast to Montana, gathering material for a book with the working title River Across Time, in collaboration with W. Raymond Wood, professor of anthropology, University of Missouri at Columbia. They've followed land and river routes taken by Swiss artist Karl Bodmer, and a German naturalist, Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied, from 1832 to 1834. The book will document changes along the Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and show areas that have endured.

Photographers who want to help the environment have two basic directions to go, says Lindholm. "One is pointing up the beauty of things we need to save, and the second is pointing up the problems we've created." Since black and white landscape photography can be challenging, he offers this advice:

  • Select one film and developer combination and work with it until you understand it, rather than bouncing from one film to another. Lindholm prefers slower films, because "you get the best quality, better grain structure and higher resolution."
  • Hold the camera steady with a tripod or a bean bag on a fence post. If negatives are blurry, it's usually a sign the camera is wiggling. Even the action of the camera's shutter can make it jump.
  • Sometimes the vastness of a beautiful landscape doesn't come across in an 8 x 10 print. When photographing, look for a point of interest, such as an object in the foreground to combine with the landscape, unusual clouds or a pattern of hills in light and shadow.
  • Study a booklet on filters. The right filter can increase the cloud effect, making it more dramatic, or provide definition in a dark evergreen tree.
  • For printing, select a paper and stick with it until you learn to use it. "Experience teaches you in the darkroom," says Lindholm.

Move in close and fill up the frame for subjects such as a farmhouse window or detail in foliage. Beginning photographers tend to stand too far away, so the subject of the photo is small and distant.

Where can your photos do some good? Lindholm advises getting in touch with conservation and environmental organizations. "Use your imagination," he says. "Who might be working to improve this area or save it?"

Your photo could inspire new action, if your local newspaper runs it with a story. A photo and a letter to the right person can get attention too. In Photomethods, Lindholm wrote: "What an impact we could have if each week or month we would send a meaningful photograph to those who represent us in Washington or in our state capitals."

Lindholm's affection for Missouri's landscape began when he was a child in St. Louis, when his parents took him on Meramec River outings. He let the current carry him in the shallow water along a gravel bar, and that experience formed a lasting bond. "The water was clear and clean," he remembers, "and I always loved that."

A love of the Missouri landscape grows over time, says this Jefferson City resident. "The more you enjoy the landscape, the more you get out in it, the more you notice it, the more you appreciate it." Lindholm has hiked and canoed extensively in the southern part of the state, and he and his wife, Joyce, hike and bike on the KATY Trail.

Along with landscapes, Lindholm's photo subjects include old farmhouses and barns. "I think it's important to preserve the natural history, but also the cultural history," he says. "Look at some of these old buildings that are being let go; it's a shame to see our history going to dust in so many places."

His mother grew up on a farm near Sedalia, and he visited there as a child. "I can feel a sense of a farm family when I see an old building and recall going out in the field with my uncle and helping him in his farm chores," he says. "The farm community ties in with the land, and I guess I'm feeling another connection to the land when I'm out photographing some of those old buildings."

Lindholm majored in radio and television production in the College of Arts and Science at the University of Missouri at Columbia, served in the U.S. Marine Corps, and returned to UMC for law school, receiving his degree in 1964. As Assistant Attorney General, he was involved in the successful effort to transform the former track bed of the MKT Railroad into the 200-mile KATY Trail across the state.

The trail "turned out to be a wonderful thing," says Lindholm. He says local people along the trail enjoy it, even some who were initially opposed to it.

Lindholm was counsel to the Clean Water Commission for over 20 years. One of his first duties was to draft a new Missouri clean water law to comply with the requirements of the federal Clean Water Act. He worked on Missouri River water allocation and issues concerning Stockton Dam and Truman Dam to make the operations more compatible with the rivers involved and with aquatic life.

Thanks to his work for the state, his photographic explorations and his conservation volunteerism, Lindholm has an informed perspective on Missouri's environmental condition. "It's a constant assault on our wild areas," he says. As population increases, so does the demand for housing and four-lane highways. "We have made progress. We have a lot of people who are aware now of how valuable resources are to our lifestyles and how much we need to protect them, but it's a constant pressure."

Lindholm's darkroom is a former fallout shelter under the front porch of his home, equipped with a huge sink from an old hotel. Darkroom work is a pleasure for him, and he often works a day or more on a black and white print. "It's a soothing, magical experience," he says. What does he look for when he's printing? "A perfect negative," he jokes.

He expects to keep promoting environmental ethics through his writing and photographs, living by the words he wrote in the March 1988 issue of Photographic: "As photographers we are privileged to be able to capture some of the beauty of this earth. In passing it on to others we will have given a bit to this world from which we take so much." triangle

WHAT CAN YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS SAY?

Is there a message in the photographs you take? One of them might be worth those proverbial thousand words when it comes to encouraging appreciation for your community's natural and cultural history. Here's a way to put photo graphs to work:

  • Organize an exhibit of "Great Places" and invite others to contribute photos. All ages can participate.
  • The exhibit doesn't have to be limited to public landmarks; a photo may have personal meaning for the photographer, such as "My Grandmother's House" or "Our Redbud Tree." Give photographers a form to fill out with their names and the location for each photo. Encourage a written message, if they have a comment to add.
  • The exhibit could be sponsored by a school, library, museum, historical society, civic club, bank or business. It's a good way to draw the community together, both as photographers and attendees.
  • To attract attendance, plan your exhibit as part of a local event-environmental fair, agricultural fair, historical celebration or arts festival.
  • Photographers don't have to be professionals or even experienced amateurs, as long as the photos are clear. Snapshots are fine, though some photographers may want to spend extra for enlargements of their work.
  • Showcase geological features, streams and rivers, prairies and woodlands, as well as beautiful and unusual old buildings.
  • Look for both positive and negative messages in the photos, places that have been preserved and places that have been defaced. Changes may be for the good, such as those that provide access for the disabled.
  • Photographers should try early morning or evening light; midday light may be too harsh. Capture the spirit of the place, its serenity or the activities that take place there.
  • Invite a historical society or museum to exhibit photos of your area as it looked years ago-"Main Street," a public park, open land, an elm-lined street. Contrast the photos with shots of the same places today, whether the sites been preserved, restored or changed.
  • Ask the local newspaper to write a feature and run a few of the photos before the exhibit opens; set up interviews with several of the photographers. Write an announcement for radio and television and ask for television coverage of the show's opening.

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