By Jennifer Pund
Nature has always held a “strong place” in Les Barstow’s heart. The award-winning photographer says it “opens a window to the Divine” and leaves him “full of inspiration and wonder.” Nature’s “invitation to explore” is something he’s incorporated into his photography from the beginning. See how his images “evoke the best of emotions” from nature at his Gilpin County Library exhibition, “Erosion,” which hangs through March.
“Warmth was my main goal,” Barstow said. “It had been quite cold, and more than usually overcast for a while, when I was contacted about the exhibit. I decided that whatever I presented needed to have some warmth. Sun caught on desert sandstone is my idea of warm, both visually and physically, so I started with pieces that showcased that warmth. I added a few pictures of waterfalls, canyons, and the Badlands to round out the theme and provide a bit of variety to the show.”
Barstow has been taking photographs for most of his life and has always found a way to incorporate nature and places he feels need recognition for preservation. “My first memorable photograph was taken in the Badlands. I was 15 at the time, on a high school geology trip through the west,” he said. “I have never changed my photographic goals of capturing the majesty of nature. I want what I photograph to be accurately reflected in my final prints. I process all of my prints digitally—even those that I captured a decade ago on film—but, I process as minimally as possible to bring out what I remember of the scene, combined with what the camera captured. I also like to emphasize that our natural places need protecting; if they’re overused or misused, future generations may never be able to see these sights as we do.”
The photographer’s connection to nature has served him well. His award-winning images have been used by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife service and the National Park Service on brochures and websites. His images have also hung in the offices of the Colorado State Senate and in the Capital Rotunda.
When Barstow and his wife moved from Western New York almost 20 years ago, the couple spent a year in the metro Denver area before deciding they wanted something more rural, with more snow. They were open to move anywhere, but they wanted to live in the mountains with nature all around, and still have access to the city.
“Gilpin was affordable, rural and accessible, and we’ve loved living here ever since. We’ve grown into the community among the trees and hills. Living in Gilpin reminds me everyday of the beauty of nature, and the need to protect it. The peace of living in the mountains is irresistible,” he said. “Fall here in the county is amazing, and I think we have some of the best Aspen color in the entire state.”
Barstow spends his days as a computer software engineer, so time away from work is spent as close to nature as he can get. “When I travel, it’s almost always to nature. Nature is infinitely intricate and beautiful to me; it’s my connection to God and all that’s spiritual. It is that beauty that I try to capture with my photography.”
Three of Barstow’s images in the library show were taken at a site on the Utah and Arizona border nicknamed, “The Wave,” in the Paria-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness. The trip where he captured this image was “spur of the moment,” he said. The protected area has colorful petrified dunes where erosion has created delicate ridges that are easily damaged. Visitors are restricted to 20 a day.
“There were 89 people in the room with me, so I got lucky. ‘The Wave’ is magical to anyone with an eye for the intricacy of nature. The warm tones and intricate ripples in the sandstone make for incomparable pictures,” he said. “Spending a day out there—knowing there are still places that remote and untraveled—was a privilege I’ll treasure for a long time.”
Two other images are from Ricketts Glen State Park in Pennsylvania, which is home to 22 named waterfalls. “I included these pictures because of the distinctive cuts in the rock that, growing up in the Northeast, typify the title of the exhibit.”
While hiking to get one of these images, Barstow slipped on a rock and was hurt. “I’m very glad I got the picture, and I wasn’t leaving until I got a good shot, even after I was injured. [The injury] has limited my photography and my ability to get out into nature for eight years now,” he said. “It’s a reminder that the cost of creating artwork, even photography, is often much higher than people realize.”
Another pair of images, taken at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, were chosen for their warmth. One shows the oddly-curved Metate Arch and the other is a glowingly warm picture of a little slot canyon and some box elder trees. “This monument caused great commotion when President Clinton declared it in 1996 because the land was, and still is, extensively used by local ranchers and even mineral extraction companies. Its scenic value and recognition have proven their worth, but the monument is still a contentious issue for some,” Barstow explained. “They are in my collection largely because I have been inspired to take images of places that need this recognition.”
Two more images are from Zion National Park’s canyon river walks where foot traffic is limited due to fears of erosion of the river banks. “These two pictures are the juxtaposition in the exhibit—the warm tones of desert sandstone, but seen through the canyon-carving effects of water rather than wind erosion and exfoliation seen in my other desert images,” he said.
Finally, there is an image of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison’s Painted Wall “in dappled sunlight” and a warm morning image of a Badlands ridge, “with rich greens not always present.”
Barstow’s work is available online at www.lesbarstow.com. Greetings cards with his images are available at Mountain Mocha in Black Hawk. Visit the library during operating hours—Tuesday and Thursday, 9 a.m.-8 p.m.; Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. and Saturday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.—to view the free exhibit.
“Erosion” Photography Exhibit
March 1-31 • Free
Gilpin County Library
15131 Hwy. 119, Black Hawk
www.gilpinlibrary.org • 303-582-5777
Originally published in the March 2017 issue of the MMAC Monthly