Newell self-taught photographer hikes his way to Witter show
STORM LAKE ― “A lot of times I’ll take a nature picture and people will look at it and say ‘Wow, I wish there was something like that around here,’ and I’ll tell them that it was taken 10 miles from where they’re standing.”
Jason Braunschweig, a budding landscape photographer from Newell, is exhibiting his work in a one-man show at the Witter Gallery through Jan. 27. He’s focused on “turning Iowa’s beauty into fine art.”
The artist is gaining notice around the region, though he started in the photography field exactly one year ago.
“I had always been into art when I was in high school, but with work and everyday life, it got pushed to the side. Finally, I decided I was going to by a camera as sort of a Christmas present to myself, and I started taking pictures last January.”
He developed his skills by trial and error, making use of YouTube tutorials, and studying the work of those who had come before him. He likes an Ansel Adams quote, “Photograph not only what you see but also what you feel.”
An avid hiker, Braunschweig quickly began to combine his love for the outdoors with his new hobby.
“Last spring I took off and went to Badlands National Park,” he said. The shoot was so exhilarating that he immediately began planning a trip for the fall out west ― from Colorado to Arizona, exploring national parks and monuments. He patiently awaited perfect light to showcase the dramatic Great Sand Dunes, warded off frigid rain to earn moody shots of the mountains reflecting off a sunlit lake at Maroon Bells in Aspen, climbed 1,500 feet for a “bucket list” shot atop Angels Landing, and waded through the cold streams of the colorful Zion Narrows in southwest Utah.
At Arches National Park, a planned image seemed ruined by a swarm of tourists.
“I wanted a sunrise shot but what I had planned just wasn’t going to work. There was this steep incline just to the left of where I had set up and wondered what was around the corner. After realizing my boots would grip the surface I started around the rock face to see what I could find. It opened up to a beautiful view that I had all to myself. It was going that little extra distance that made the difference that morning. Its things like that I try to keep with me. ... Watching the sun come up and getting to enjoy every minute to myself was worth the risk of not getting a shot at all. ... be inspired to go that extra distance and to take that chance. It is better to try and fail then to never try at all.”
The western journey rekindled a passion for the region that had started in his days at Newell-Fonda High School.
“My first memory of the mountains was a band trip in high school. I was a terrible trumpet player but stayed on when hearing that there would be a trip to Denver. I still enjoy the moment when you’re going through the high plains and all of a sudden the mountains come into sight. ... Like distant memories that are a little fuzzy, the impact is undeniable,’ he wrote on his Facebook page.
“I think when we surround ourselves with beautiful locations we start to see more. In our everyday lives we walk around with blinders and miss what is beautiful around us. We start to appreciate more.”
For a hiker, the major national parks are an amazing experience, he says, but that doesn’t mean that you have to travel long distances to find inspiration.
“I spend a lot of time in the local parks like Sunken Grove, and in places like Dolliver State Park over by Fort Dodge or at Brushy Creek. Hiking gets me out of the house, and having the camera along is a bonus. I just like to explore around, in search of new compositions.”
Braunschweig reflected that most people probably don’t appreciate how much nature and beauty there is around them in northwest Iowa, “I’ve taken some pictures for couples in local areas that they didn’t even know existed though they might have lived here all their lives. You think of Iowa as flat and cornfields, but these areas are out there if you go look for them.”
Braunschweig sees his camera as a tool to capture light and pull the viewer deep into the image. He is a believer in the “Golden Hour,” the short-lived soft light just after dawn and just before dusk when the sun rests low on the horizon. The timing allows for great detail filled with highlights, shadows, and often a rich, warm glow.
“It’s amazing how different a place can look in the morning and evening light,” he said.
Of late, the photographer has also combined an appreciation for astronomy with his growing repertoire as an artist.
“I shot the Milky Way one night from the Chautauqua Park jetty at Storm Lake ― a 30 second exposure. I enjoy night photography and astrophotography. I have an app on my phone that tells me the exact best time for viewing stars. There aren’t a lot of people around here who do a lot of star gazing, so they might not even be aware of the Milky Way, but if you try, it can be seen.”
His first year has been all about learning and experimenting, working around his day job as a trucker. With inquiries mounting, he’s now preparing to begin sales of his prints. “Ultimately, the dream is to do the photography full time,” he says.
With a name that is a mouthful, he’s calling his enterprise and Facebook page, “J.Braun. Photography.”
“It’s just easier for people to say,” he laughed.
Braunschweig says he gets his artistic influences from his mother, who runs Patchwork Plus quilting shop, and his work ethic from both parents.
“They each run their own businesses, so I learned the value of hard work early on,” he said.
Braunschweig hopes to inspire his viewers to experience the world around us through his work. He offered encouragement to those who would like to get into artistic photography.
“You don’t have to start with a super-expensive camera,” he said. “Just get out there and go.”
The Witter Gallery show can be seen Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 3-5 p.m., Thursdays 3-6, and Saturdays noon to 3 p.m.