Remembering Danny Burk
1960 - 2020
Central Texas is legendary for its springtime wildflower display, and I spent a week in April 2004, visiting several areas including the town of Brenham and its surroundings. While many of the spots that I visited during the week had attractive flowers in bloom, Brenham surpassed them all in terms of profusion.
Finding suitable conditions and compositions to photograph these flowers, however, is easier said than done. Wind and harsh direct sun, twin banes of serious photography, are as common in central Texas in April as are the flowers themselves. The flowers tend to peak from one area to another at different times; species that are in prime condition in one area may be underdeveloped in another, and past peak in yet another. Within peak areas, many times the best flowers are restricted to small patches, or the blooms are thinly scattered over a broad area. From a photographic viewpoint, the most attractive patches are both sizeable and thickly flowered, leaving only small glimpses of green among the blossoms.
Much of my week was spent wandering the back roads in periods of wind and harsh light, searching for suitable subjects to which I could return in better circumstances. Near Brenham, I found a number of promising areas. Late one evening, I hit the jackpot! A large field, packed to overflowing with bluebonnets and accented with red paintbrush for a gorgeous combination of color. It was nearly dark, so I planned to return to the field early the next morning.
And so I did. It was quite windy, but the sky was dappled with large clouds: if I could use fast enough shutter speeds to freeze the flowers' motion, I could time my shots to coincide with soft diffused light when a cloud blocked the sun. As I approached the field, it was glorious: a solid mass of color, waiting to be photographed, and I had it all to myself.
But I soon discovered that I wasn't the first to find the field. As I looked around for ideal compositions, everywhere there were patches of crushed flowers. Butt prints! It was impossible to avoid them in the compositions that I liked, and even a small area intruding into the frame was very noticeable and distracting. I was aware that posing family members in the flower fields is a popular photography subject in central Texas, and it seemed that the heftiest participants had all discovered the glory of this one field. Elephantine posteriors had been strategically planted all across the field, spoiling almost every composition that I could find.
After much searching and experimentation with framing, I found a few attractive compositions that hadn't been defiled. Now that I had a subject, I had only to wait for wind and light. The wind, it seemed, had other ideas, and never stopped blowing with considerable intensity. I was forced to use my medium format camera so that I could use a fast film, Provia 400F, which is unavailable for my usual 4x5 large format camera. I loaded the film, composed, and waited until a passing cloud softened the harsh sunlight. I took multiple frames of each composition, insurance that at least a few would be sharp in the blowing wind. Happily, after processing the film I was pleased that most frames were sharp, thanks to the fast film that allowed me to use shutter speeds of one-fourth the length that would have been possible with my normal ISO 100 film. Although the quantity of images that I brought home was not as large as I'd hoped, I still managed to get good material in spite of wind, sun, and rumps.