South Dakota has been on my mind lately. I had an encounter with a South Dakotan last week in my car. He pulled out in front of me while I was going through a roundabout. I nearly hit him, and the way he gestured at me, I think he thought I was in the wrong. Sorry, buddy it would have been you with the ticket.
How can he not know that? When he pulled away I saw his South Dakota license plates. It costs only $48 dollars a year to get tags in South Dakota! (Unless they raised the cost from 2012.) You’re from South Dakota! That’s why! In the 2-3 years living in South Dakota, Huron and Rapid City, I don’t think I saw 1 roundabout. In fact, I’d bet there isn’t a roundabout in the entire Upper Midwest, except Minneapolis and maybe Fargo.
This encounter got me to thinking about those South Dakotan days. Most of my free time was spent driving the backroads going to landmarks, rodeos or Pow Wows. Best time I spent alone in my entire life!
I did a lot of experimenting with digital and film photography while living in the Dakotas.
Can’t say my time in South Dakota was all a good time. It was a very lonely time. However, I spent that time very productively. I wrote voraciously. I drowned myself in photography, both film and digital. And, I lost over 100lbs while metamorphosing myself.
I was sober, focused, and aware. Looking back it was a splendid time. Every weekend, during the good weather months, I would find some action packed event. Most of them cost a few dollars to get in and I could free roam with my camera in hand. I was like an alien visiting another planet. I didn’t care, this was some of the best photo ops I’d ever see in my lifetime. Rodeos and Pow Pows were especially special. That was living breathing culture. Earth to Ed, are you there?
I’d drink a lot of cheap gas station coffee on these little sojourns. Straight up black out of the bucket with a spicket in the back of the store. I was on a diet! I’d be driving down the longest, straightest, loneliness roads you could ever imagine. I discovered digital music and had my MP3 player repeating the 100 or so songs I could fit on it.
I subscribed to Napster, when they went legit, and was able to fill the player with my favorite music. I listened to bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Scanners, Black Angels, and many others. My absolute favorite band to listen to while chasing a sunset on the South Dakotan plains is the Heartless Bastards. I highly recommend listening to their album, Arrow, if you ever make the trek through the high plains of South Dakota.
One of the best memories of South Dakota was when I moved from Dickinson, ND to Rapid City, SD. I crashed my Kia Spectra just 2 weeks before I was going to move. A teenage girl pulled out in front of me on a very snowy April morning. I was living in Dickinson, North Dakota at the time and working at the Dickinson newspaper. I was on my way to work. She was driving a 1990 something Ford F250 or something along those lines. My entire front end was torn off and the truck was dented.
It took 6 weeks to get my car back. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise. The girl’s insurance company put me into a Toyota Yaris that they rented for me. I used the unlimited miles to make the 440 mile round trip several times. I believe I put over 2000 miles on that car.
My First Rodeo
My first job in South Dakota was at the Plainsman newspaper in Huron, South Dakota. The Plainsman was owned by a company that owned several small town newspaper across the country. I created animated Flash ads for their websites. It was only part time, so I took a job as a graphic designer at the Plainsman so I could work full time.
While working at the Plainsman I did a lot of work for the local cattle trade. Ranching and the whole cowboy culture fascinated me. I grew up in rural Illinois around farmers, but this was different. One of the salesmen was from a ranching family. I used to ask him a ton of questions. He was married to a Native American woman, so he told me a lot about the Natives as well.
That ad salesman that I befriended suggested that I take my camera to a rodeo. I visited my first rodeo in Wessington Springs, South Dakota. Just a short 40 mile drive from Huron. My camera setup was pretty poor back then. I was using a Canon 20D and used a 85mm lens and a 55mm lens. Two prime lenses! I was changing them at the dusty rodeo arena.
My less than subpar camera setup didn’t dampen my spirits. I was able to get some nice shots. I was hooked! Over the the next year and half in Huron I drove to several rodeos, Pow Wows, demolition derbies, and whatever the countryside could offer me. It was always an adventure.
High Plains Tradition
After leaving Huron, I moved to Dickinson. Then onto Rapid City. But wait, there’s more! After living in Rapid City for little over a year I stumbled into Chadron, Nebraska. That stint only lasted 3 months, before I finally threw my hands up and left for California.
No matter what city I was living in during that time I was using all my free time to chase the high plains culture with my camera. 99% of that chasing was done by myself. It became a tradition of mine. To fill up on my trusty Kia with gas and fill a supersized coffee mug with the some the nastiest coffee on the planet before heading out with a grin as wide as the high plains horizon.
Let’s Not Forget Wyoming
While living in Rapid City I took many excursions across the state line into Wyoming. I visited Devils Tower on more than one occasion. Living just an hour and half drive from this majestic formation, it became one of the highlights of my time in Rapid City. It’s a sacred place among the Native Americans living in the area. That was evident from the prayer flags I found near Devils Tower. I took my film camera on one occasion and the pictures turned out brilliantly.
Another day trip that still lives vividly in my memories is a trip to the Vore Buffalo Jump. This was a preserved site where the native tribes would force the buffalo into a run and guide them off a cliff. It was a very effective way of hunting buffalo for the Lakota and plains Indians.
The Best Opportunities Aren’t Found on Google
Photographic wise, I didn’t find much at the site. However, I noticed some very enticing roads heading off into the horizon nearby. The was young and I had a full tank of gas, coffee buzz, and a few rolls of film. I found myself on an endless array of backcountry gravel roads.
I ended up at Cook Lake. I followed signs for miles and after seeing these signs I had find out what Cook Lake was all about. Along the way I saw several hundred deer. Yes, deer in the hundreds! I found an abandoned salvage yard with old rusted cars from the 50’s. I drove through beautiful landscapes and forests. I think I only saw a handful of people along the way. One of the best days I had while living in Rapid City.
Getting a Little Technical Here…
It wouldn’t behoove of me to not talk about some things I was doing back then compared to how I do things now. I shoot with entirely different cameras and I always thought that I’d changed a lot as a photographer. Yes and no. I’m different, but I’m still the same. I see that now looking back at some of these photos.
Let’s Talk Gear– Then and Now
When I shot these photos I was using a Canon 20D DSLR and Canon A2 SLR. I experimented a lot with film during the latter half of my time in South Dakota. I stopped shooting film in California when I became a real estate photographer. I stopped doing a lot of things you see in these photos when I started shooting real estate.
Wounded Knee, Pine Ridge, South Dakota
When I first moved to Huron I only had some prime lens and my 20D DSLR. The week I moved there it was -20 zero and all my stuff was packed in the back of my Kia. It took me 3-4 days to find a place and move it into somewhere that was room temperature. I fried all my batteries. Camera, flashes, and even my flashlight.
My only two good lenses were f1.2 55mm and f1.0 85mm. I could be off on those f stops. About 1-2 months into my first rodeo season I bought a f4 70-200mm L series lens. I’ve never bought an entry level lens since. I still have that lens, but I haven’t used it in 8 years on a regular basis. I used to love shooting action with that lens.
Currently I use a Sony A6000 and a Ricoh GRII about 95% of any photography outside of real estate. The A6000 is an entry level mirrorless camera. It was my first mirrorless system. I almost exclusively use only Vario-Tessar E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens. The lens costs more than the camera! I carry a little side satchel, a murse and both systems fit nicely in it. Batteries, cards, snacks, and bottle of water. Perfect for traveling!
When most of these photos were taken I was using Camera RAW and Photoshop CS4 then CS6. I used a non-destructive editing process. I italicised non-destructive because you never hear that term these days. It was a pretty crude method and you can see by some of the photos. Especially the Huron ones. I was also using a Topaz HDR Photoshop plugin. I posted them because I don’t think I did a too bad of job. However, there’s a reason I stopped using it shortly after I started using it. We’ll just leave it at that…
Today, I use Camera RAW, Photoshop and Lightroom. I incorporated Lightroom into my personal workflow last Fall, the same time I started using it on the real estate side. It’s been a much slower learning process on the personal side. I see the benefits and uses. I don’t use Photoshop as much and I miss it. I don’t on the real estate side, but on the personal side I like using Photoshop more. I’ll still use Lightroom a little longer and see if I can make it work for me.
Giving Film Another Try
I became interested in film photography when I moved to Rapid City. That had to have been around 2009. I had been dragging around a flatbed scanner that could scan negatives from my early photography days in Denver. I decided I was either going to start shooting film again or I was going to get rid of it. I bought a Pentax k1000; that was the same camera I bought at a Denver flea market 10 years earlier.
I didn’t shoot for very long with the Pentax film camera. I had no idea what I was doing and the digital Rebel had just come out. The Rebel was the first entry level DSLR. I still didn’t know what I was doing, but at least I could see that instantaneously.
The I ended up not liking the camera so much. So after a few tries I settled on the Canon A2. It worked with all my digital DSLR lenses. I loved that camera. For a film camera it was extremely fast. I shot a couple of action events with it. One of those events is the horse racing photos I posted on this blog. I still have that camera. I also used a Canon Sure Shot point and shoot film camera. I took that camera with me on my first trip to China. I believe I still have that camera as well.
I really loved film photography. Film photography is more about photography. Digital is 50% photography and 50% post production. The film editis itself other than some tweaks in post. A RAW file from a digital camera has to be processed. There is no such thing as straight out of the camera in digital photography. Unless you’re shooting JPGs.
It’s been about 9 years since I’ve shot with film. I still have a flatbed scanner. There’s a place here in Las Vegas that would process the negatives. Things have slowed down since we moved to Vegas. Film photography could easily fit into my live here. Unlike California, I have the room and the time.
Experimentation is a Good Thing
While living in Rapid City I experimented a lot with film. I would by cheap toy cameras I found at the second hand store. They produced some very cool results. I also shot with point and shoot cameras I found in bins loaded with all kinds of discontinued electronics. The results were never disappointing.
I would also experiment with different films. There wasn’t the vast selection of film you’d find pre-digital, but film photography was making a resurgence back then. The urban hipsters will picking it up. That created companies like Lomography that sold replica cameras and films. Some of their films were pretty fun to use. My favorite film that was readily available was Kodak Portra. I loved how the colors looked on that film.
Yeah, I’d say it’s been long past due to brush the dust off my film cameras. I believe I still carry around 3-4 of them. Maybe that will be a goal for our upcoming trip to Seattle this summer.
It’s Ok To Look Back
South Dakota has long disappeared in my rear view mirror. For a long time I didn’t want to revisit that time of my life in my memories. It wasn’t an easy time for me, but wasn’t especially painful either. I really have a lot of fond memories of the high plains. When I arrived I was a over weight and jilted. By the time I left I was a slim fit man with a purposeful outlook on life. I survived and even thrived from all of what the Dakotas threw at me. I have taken that experience with me ever since and it’s made me a better person to this day.
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
Horse racing in Pierre, South Dakota