David Ottenstein PhotographyDavid Ottenstein Photography


Fish and Photos

June 15th, 2011

I left Maquoketa this morning and quickly found a deteriorating farmhouse, included here. The gnats were tormenting me again so I worked as quickly as possible. The church rising from the hill made a nice frame for the red-winged blackbird swooping by in the foreground.
I stopped for lunch at a favorite restaurant in Iowa City (Z’Mariks Noodle Cafe) and walked around town in the strong but comfortable breeze (and to get another Starbucks iced coffee). Drove west on I-80 for a while but lost interest with the interstate as I usually do here, and drove the rest of the way to Grinnell on Highway 6. Stopped at the Ladora Bank (that I first photographed in 2004 prior to its rebirth) hoping to find that the bistro there was still in business – and it is.

I arrived at my friend’s house outside of Grinnell and settled in. This has been my base in Iowa for all my trips since 2005. It will be nice not to unload all my gear each night only to return it to the car in the morning. We took a drive to the pond hidden back in the cornfields surrounding the farm and fished for bass and sunfish. I came up with an empty hook, but others with me did much better! I also learned this evening that applying vanilla (as in extract) will keep the gnats away. I haven’t tried it yet, but I will as soon as the gnats figure out where I’m hiding.

Wonderful to be back in Iowa

June 14th, 2011

I try to get to Iowa twice a year. Because of back troubles over the past year, it’s been 16 months since I’ve been here. This morning, as I cruised with my windows down along a small highway and then dusty gravel roads, it really hit me how wonderful it was to be back. The unique landscape, the friendly people, and the opportunity to see and photograph beautiful farms and towns, rivers and fields, reminded me again, how fortunate I am. Read the rest of this entry »

Last Day in Wisconsin

June 13th, 2011

I started my day in Prairie du Chien, then made a big loop north along the Mississippi River (visited Lock and Dam #9) to about 24 miles south of La Crosse. From there I headed east into the very hilly country of Crawford County – lots of trees, small rivers and creeks, and numerous farms with happily grazing cows. In the tiny town of Seneca I was thrilled to find a bar open and serving lunch (rare for a Sunday)! I wandered south and east, then took a county highway west back to Prairie du Chien. From there I crossed the Mississippi into northeastern Iowa and revisited McGregor, a favorite town that I last visited in 2005. Waited patiently (sort-of) for the light rain to stop so I could photograph the huge grain elevator there. Read the rest of this entry »

Rolling Hills and Country Churches

June 12th, 2011

Today began on a disappointing note – 3rd consecutive day of heavy overcast and extraordinarily uninspiring light. However, I came across a stunning 1874 country church about 5 miles south of Mineral Point and a house from 1834 that was once a stagecoach stop. I met Sandy, a painter who is using the church as her studio and gallery. The grey light was reasonable for photographing these buildings. Lots more driving through this southwest part of Wisconsin that the glaciers failed to visit, thus steeply rolling hills, winding roads and lots of cows grazing in lush green pastures. In the later part of the afternoon the clouds finally started breaking up, and at about 6:00 the sun came out. Around 8:00 I found my 3rd country church of the day – Castle Rock Lutheran, perched high on a hilltop overlooking Hickory Grove. With the assistance of thousands of maddening gnats I photographed the church before heading west for Prairie du Chien for the night.

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Yesterday’s Adventure

June 11th, 2011

My plan for yesterday was to head north from my starting point in Darlington, WI. I didn’t get very far in that direction before I was rerouted south on the suggestion of a maintenance guy I met at the Lafayette County Courthouse. He sent me to Hazel Green, WI, with the suggestion that, along the way, I go see an old concrete silo that has been converted into a lighthouse. I was intrigued – couldn’t imagine much of a need for a lighthouse in this part of Wisconsin [see photo below, even though you probably can’t see the deck furniture in it!]. In Hazel Green I met and photographed Stephen Symons at his Auto Center (aka old Texaco filling station). He sent me east to New Diggings which didn’t offer me much to photograph, but the people I talked to in the bar there sent me further south to Council Hill Station, Illinois. I was there taking pictures until around 7:30 when I decided to go see Galena, IL (even further south), since everyone I spoke to that day also mentioned it. After a nice Mexican dinner I headed back north for a motel in Platteville, WI, only to discover that all the rooms in town were booked because of a quilting convention. (I hadn’t had phone reception or internet for a day and a half – thanks AT&T – and therefore had no way of knowing this in advance.) So, I drove 24 miles back east to the motel in Darlington where I had started 14 hours earlier.

Here are some photos from my trip. Read the rest of this entry »

Pleasant Surprises in Southern Wisconsin

June 10th, 2011

I was very excited to discover in Green and Lafayette Counties, in the southwestern part of Wisconsin, the beautiful rolling hills and wonderful old farm buildings that I was hoping for. The light was grey and dismal all day, periodic light rain and the constant threat of thunderstorms (not to mention a temperature drop of more than 30 degrees from the previous day), but I had an enjoyable day driving and photographing nonetheless. I also came across several unexpected visual treats. The clock tower of the 120 year old Green County Courthouse in Monroe, while hard to access with my camera and tripod, was well worth the effort.
Read the rest of this entry »

Disappointing Search for Old Farms

June 10th, 2011

Evidently, as David Plowden cautioned, so many of the old farm buildings have quite literally vanished from the Wisconsin landscape. My friends in Iowa have also told me that the rate at which old, unused farm buildings are being removed from the land appears to be accelerating. The increasing price of land and higher demand for corn persuades farmers to remove any buildings (and, unfortunately even trees) in order to plant as much of each acre as possible.

Despite my disappoint with locating farm buildings, I’m still finding things to photograph. I spent a few hours exploring the interior and exterior of the state capitol building in Madison. It is a grandly impressive structure. Here is one of my favorite finds.

Fighting the Heat, Humidity and Bugs

June 9th, 2011

Since heading west, away from the “coast” of Lake Michigan, the temperatures have soared, as has the humidity, the bugs and the strength of the thunderstorms. Photographing in this heat, especially under the dark cloth of my 4×5 view camera has been challenging. Driving through Prairie du Sac late in the afternoon, I read the bank time/temp sign to confirm what I had suspected, the temperature was at 99 degrees.Prairie du Sac is a small town roughly midway between Madison and Wisconsin Dells. I had heard of Wisconsin Dells, but never understood what it was – a general area, a natural formation or mountains? Turns out, it is the name of a town, which is now a massive amusement park/tourist destination built on the “excuse” of the natural beauty of the Wisconsin River curving its way through a gorge in the town.

Industrial Subjects Abound in Upper Midwest

June 8th, 2011

I came to Wisconsin to expand my Iowa project photographing the vanishing architectural landscape of the single-family farm. However, in the eastern part of the sate I keep finding my way to power plants, bridges, paper mills, and other industrial plants.

In the northeast, our security paranoia usually means this type of subject is off limits to photographers; in Wisconsin, photographing what is readily viewable from public roads seems not to be a problem as long as one is not trespassing to take the photographs. The eight story high Budweisers are part of an Anheuser-Busch facility in Manitowoc and the lime processing plant is in Green Bay. Both photos were with my iPhone. Rest assured, though, that I am using my “real” cameras too!

Chicago and Milwaukee

June 5th, 2011

After an enjoyable and motivating day and a half visit with photographer David Plowden and his family in their home near Chicago, I moved on to Milwaukee, checking out towns and the shore of Lake Michigan along the way. I’ve spent the last day and a half exploring Milwaukee by car and on foot. It is an attractive and quite vibrant city. Given the extent of loss to its industrial base in recent decades, the level of energy in the city surprised me. I was happy to find that the majority of the waterfront – for recreation as well as industry – is not cordoned off for private use, as is so often the case in Connecticut and other parts of the northeastern seaboard. Beautiful parks and beaches along Lake Michigan and ample access to the rivers and channel in the city as well.

Today I will head north toward Green Bay in search of farms and farmland. So far, no signs of violent storms or tornadoes – but I’l keep my eye out for them!