Photos of the Flint Hills leads Beeton to Art in the Park

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
For Ron Beeton, photography is a form of communication, and he’s planning to offer some of those messages to patrons coming to Art in the Park on Saturday in Marion’s Central Park.

Beeton, a Wichita native, has been a permanent resident at Marion County Lake & Park for only two years, but he’s no stranger to this area.

As a boy, he frequently visited his grandparents who lived in nearby Peabody, and he and his wife have had a cabin at the lake for about 20 years.

“I’ve been around here all of my life, actually,” he said.

And Beeton, who pursues landscape photography for his personal projects, has found his favorite subject right in his own backyard.

“I’ve been working on a portfolio of the Flint Hills now for about seven years,” he said.

Beeton will take his portfolio to four shows this fall around the state, including Saturday’s Art in the Park.

“The reason I like Art in the Park so well is because the people who go to Art in the Park are familiar with the area I photograph,” Beeton said. “They give me information I don’t know about, like about some of the old houses I shoot.”

Beeton became serious about photography while attending Everett College in the Seattle, Wash., area. He earned a degree in fine arts there.

With a growing interest in landscapes, he created a portfolio of the old section of Seattle called Pioneer Square as one of his first major projects.

After graduating, Beeton moved back to Kansas, got married and started doing landscapes of his home state.

In the mid-1970s, he started an old-time portrait shop, and traveled cross-country before settling in the Branson, Mo., area.

After about five years there, he returned to Kansas as a commercial photographer in the aircraft industry, where he also assisted with the creation of interactive videos to train pilots.

He later developed a thriving athletic photography clientele for club and high school soccer teams.

Beeton continues to work full-time for Spirit Aero Systems, formerly a division of The Boeing Co. in Wichita. He estimated he works about 20 hours per week on his personal photography projects, and plans to pursue the venture full-time after he retires.

“It’s very serious,” he said about his commitment to developing and selling landscape photographs. “I don’t want to go back into the commercial part of it. I want to do the shows and the exhibits.”

In his efforts to capture visual messages about the Flint Hills, Beeton has been focusing not only on the rolling natural landscape, but also the old houses, barns and bridges hidden within.

Most recently, he’s been chasing storms into them thar hills.

“It’s a pretty good variety (of topics),” he said. “It’s different than what most people photograph.”

Beeton said he first started shooting the Flint Hills around the Cottonwood Falls area of Chase County, but over the years has expanded into Greenwood and Cowley counties-and, of course, Marion County.

“Sometimes I don’t have to go far,” he said of his favorite shooting locations. “Some people think they have to go to Colorado or New Mexico, or something like that. But you don’t have to go there.”

Beeton’s favorite tools have been a Nikon 3 and a Bronica ETS camera. He recently acquired a panoramic camera that has brought a new dimension to his work.

While many photographers are switching to digital formats these days, Beeton is still sold on film.

“I’m old school,” he said. “I started out in the ’60s with black-and-white film with a 4×5 (inch) format.”

He said using film motivates him to be selective about the shots he takes.

“A lot of people go out and shoot 200 shots,” he said. “I go out and shoot 10 shots and I get what I want. If I went out and shot 200 shots, I’d be here forever trying to figure out what I was going to print. Over the years, you learn to be selective.”

Beeton makes his own prints, and does the matting and framing, too. His larger, color prints sell for around $135 with a frame; smaller and black-and-white photos go for around $95.

You can look at more of Ron Beeton’s landscape photos by going to his Web site at beetonphotography.com.

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