Photographer Captures the Emotion of a Rural Landscape
By Troy Bishopp
Sherburne, N.Y. French photographer Marc Riboud said, “Taking pictures is savoring life intensely, every hundredth of a second.” In central New York, when you think of capturing rural landscapes and barns through the lens and savoring life, one only has to meet enthusiastic local photographer, Wells Horton.
When you ask him about one of his thousands of photographs, you better have some time set aside. This passionate man of the camera tells one heck of a story. He is part artist, part historian, part philosopher and part visionary all rolled up in one inspirational adventurer. He captures objects, vistas, moods and life through his creative genius.
“My Uncle James Horton was an avid amateur photographer and got me hooked on photography. An aunt gave me the gift of a National Geographic subscription starting when I was 10. I would pour over each issue and I loved the photographs. When I was 13, I announced to my parents I would pursue photography as a full time hobby once I retired.”
Wells grew up on the North Fork of eastern Long Island where some of the best soils and climate in New York State boasted record yields of potatoes and cauliflower. Through high school and college his summer job was working on a 275 acre fruit farm which is how he saved enough money to finance his college career. This experience gave him a life-long passion for agriculture.
He studied meteorology at Oswego State and he and a classmate attempted stereoscopic cloud photography. They didn’t have great success but learned and had fun with the project. As a meteorologist for 10 years many photographic opportunities availed themselves including storm-chasing for the Alberta Hail Project where many rainbows and storms could be photographed.
He had a two year stint teaching computer science and then joined the Proctor and Gamble Company in Norwich, N.Y until he retired in 2010. During his employment and off-work hours he took up the digital camera in 2000.
“I’ve owned several makes and types of cameras over the years but for the past 15 years I’ve used Nikon equipment. Digital photography allowed me to experiment with the camera mechanics. Digital photography reduces the cost of trial and error. With digital, the information on each photograph is recorded with the photograph. That along with the ability to see what you captured out in the field, leads to learning much faster on what works and what does not. That’s when my skills starting increasing. Slowly I went from capturing the memories to capturing the emotions”, said Horton.
“Much of my learning has come from reading and trying. For years, my job included a monthly meeting in Washington, DC where I would stop by National Geographic and explore the ever changing exhibits. One month a photo exhibit on Australia by Sam Abell had me stunned. I didn’t take photographs. I took snapshots. His work humbled me”, said Horton.
Passion and emotion are two superlatives that guide Horton’s eye. “I love rural New York State. I love the interaction with people both who enjoy seeing photography and photographers. I love the teaching. There is no work at all in it for me. It is all pleasure. I’ve traveled many a back road searching for the shot but it’s more than random driving. For me it is all about the light. Mixing colors, lighting, fog/mist, and texture is what drives my passion. I consider the time of day, quality of light, and weather then seek geographic locations that enhance the existing conditions. I strive to capture emotion.”
“To be a good photographer it takes three components: First, one must understand the camera equipment and associated principles of photography. One must understand f-stops, shutter speeds, depth of field, lighting, etc. Secondly, one must be proficient in post processing. A good photograph in the words of Ansel Adams is not taken, it’s created. One needs to understand the steps to get from a photo in the camera to a printed image. Thirdly, one must be able to see. This can be the hardest to develop but it is essential. I know photographers that can manage solely on their ability to see, yet to grow as an outstanding photographer all three traits are important.”
Wells is famous for his love of old barns and they quickly became a prime photographic subject. Mixed in with retirement he did some consulting for P&G and took trips to Cincinnati, Ohio often. After a long day at work he headed out into the countryside looking for a worthy image and stumbled across a barn with a huge State of Ohio Bicentennial logo painted on one side.
“I posted the picture online that night and a coworker mentioned that there were several barns with similar logos elsewhere in Ohio. A little research and I discovered that a barn painter, Scott Hagan, was commissioned to paint a bicentennial logo on one barn in each of Ohio’s 92 counties. He painted them in the years around 2000. When he first was commissioned to do the project he received both advice and equipment from Harley Warrick. Warrick was the last of the Mail Pouch barn painters.”
“I realized there were a couple of bicentennial barns in Madison County, NY. A bit more research and I found that Scott Hagan was commissioned to paint barns commemorating Madison County’s bicentennial. He painted a barn in each of Madison County’s towns and the City of Oneida. It inspired me to freeze his work on film”, said Horton.
Nowadays Horton’s handiwork can be found regularly at the Broad Street gallery in Hamilton, N.Y, in photo essays for the New York State Conservationist magazine and online with his photo-a-day project where he shares a photo everyday which was taken on that day. “Landscapes, waterfalls, friends, and family are my photographic challenges. It’s pushing me to take a second look at things,” said Horton.
For an entertaining, visual bonanza and a chance to own one of Wells Horton’s works of art, visit www.wells-horton.smugmug.com
Published in Lee Publications