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Illinois hunting and fishing

Photographer loves move to outdoor work

February 13, 2010 at 04:24 PM

Belleville News-Democrat

COULTERVILLE (AP) - Gretchen Steele is one photographer who doesn’t like being confined to a studio.

The 48-year-old Coulterville resident likes the warm sun at her back, wind in her hair and a subject that can’t talk back to her on the other side of the lens.

“Outdoors is where it’s at for me,” Steele said. “When I first started this 20 years ago, I did the portraits and weddings and that sort of thing. I just hated it, I really did. It’s just not my cup of tea. I enjoyed it so much more outside.”

Five years ago, Steele began transitioning from studio photography at Steele Photo Services, where she is the owner and primary photographer, to a more outdoors bent.

She still does portraits and weddings, but nature, wildlife, fauna - anything not restricted by four walls - is her primary canvas.

“I want to show people what’s out there and what they are missing,” Steele said. “That’s my whole goal with the outdoors photography i s to show you what you’re missing if you don’t go outside.”

One of those images recently was chosen to be part of a prominent outdoors exhibit in Illinois.

Steele was one of 22 photographers selected to participate in the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission’s Illinois Natural Treasures Exhibit. The image chosen by the INPC, “An Ancient’s Tale,” represents one of the many rock art scenes found at Piney Creek Ravine State Nature Area in Randolph County.

The exhibit features 22 entries that showcase the beauty of Illinois’ protected natural areas. The opening reception for this exhibit will be Feb. 25 at the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago. The exhibit will run through June.

“I really didn’t take it thinking it was going to be a winner of anything,” Steele said. “There were a couple of other ones at Piney Creek that I thought had a better chance at winning.”

Piney Creek Ravine, a unique 198-acre area on the Randolph-Jackson County l ine, contains the largest body of prehistoric rock art in Illinois. Almost 200 designs believed to date to the Late Woodland (A.D. 500-1000) and Mississippian (A.D. 1000-1550) periods occur within the ravine.

The nature preserve is less than 15 minutes from Steele’s home.

“It’s a really, really interesting place to go,” Steele said. “Every time I go there, I find some kind of new piece of rock art that I didn’t see before because of the shadows.

“I just find the rock art really, really fascinating. When you stand there and look at this big wall full of this, it gets your imagination thinking of what it might have been like to live during the Woodland or the Mississippian Periods during that era, since it’s so close to where I live.”

Prehistoric rock art was created by either pecking and grinding (petroglyphs) or painting (pictographs) designs on rock surfaces. Steele’s winning entry features both disciplines in what she believes is a hunting scene.

On the left side of the image is a pictograph of a hunter using a bow and arrow. There is a petroglyph on the right side of the photo, and the top is a painting of what Steele thinks is “a spiritual fellow” levitating in the air.

“In that particular area, what my imagination has always seen is they are running the deer off of the top bluff down into the bottom and shooting them,” Steele said. “That’s why I chose it, because it was a hunting scene.

The image was initially entered into the 2009 Outdoor Illinois magazine photo contest, which had Illinois Nature Preserves at Land & Water Reserves as a theme.

All entries were forwarded to the INPC, which celebrated the addition of its 500th protected natural area in 2009.

In addition to the Chicago exhibit, the images will be on display at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Natural Heritage tent in Conservation World for the 2010 Illinois State Fair in Springfield.

Stee le said to be recognized with an award for doing something she loves has been a hoot.

“It’s been amazing and surprising to me,” she said. “I guess I’ve always thought of myself as just some batty old lady wandering around the woods in camo with a camera in her hands.”

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