Barbara Lawlor, Gilpin County. Nine years ago, photographer Les Barstow had finally arrived at the waterfall at Ricketts Glen, Pennsylvania, his destination for the day’s shoot. He stood on the river bank and looked at the cascade of water and spray and realized he would have to stand in the water to get the right angle, the right light. No big deal, he saw a nice flat rock at the perfect spot and stepped on it, something he’d done in many PA streams throughout his life.
“But there was this biofilm on the rock making it slimy and I slipped off, scraping my shin on the rock next to it.”
It was a pretty good scrape, but Les hung onto his camera and got the shot he wanted. Mission accomplished. I had good balance, but this one got me.”
The incident was not finished. When the scrape didn’t heal, and Les began to feel bone twinges, he went to a doctor to get some antibiotics, but what had seemed to be a minor inconvenience turned into an eight-year nightmare. The drug he was taking told his tendons to destroy themselves.
“I found out that it was a class of drugs that affects about five percent of the population. I took a Thanksgiving vacation out of state and two days later I knew something was wrong. It had been five days since I began the medication and I knew something was wrong, so I stopped taking it.”
Les discovered that no studies had been done on the effects of the drug and there was no known cure. What had been the start of his venture into photography was put on hold while he dealt with his health issues.
In the past year, Les has found his way back to doing what he loves and last month, he hung a show of his landscapes at the Gilpin Community Public Library. Among the work is his framed photograph of Rickett’s Glen.
Les grew up in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, an outdoorsy bookworm who spent his days exploring the hill country and the beach at Cape May. He remembers being fascinated by the horseshoe crabs that crawled over the beach sand and the layer of polished pebbles, the Cape May diamonds.
His father was an ardent birdwatcher and had taught Les how to be patient, how to see things, take it in as it comes along.
When he was in his early teens, he received an instamatic camera but didn’t pay too much attention to it at first. When he was a high school freshman he enrolled in a summer enrichment geology program which involved a field trip to the West, 20 days on the road, through Mississippi, Yellowstone Park and the Tetons.
Beauty and dramatic lighting inspired him to pick up his camera, shooting the Craters of the Moon and sunset colors backlighting the Badlands. When he got back home his parents got out the projector and the slide show blew him away. “The pictures were magical, the landscapes more magical than I remembered. The local oak and mineral club invited me to give a presentation and I was hooked.”
In 1998 Les and his wife moved to Colorado for his work, living in Westminster for a year and then moving into the mountains, to Golden Gate. Before moving out West, he had found a market for his photography at the local art shows, but Colorado has a plethora of nature shooters and he found that it is a tough market.
“I had to regroup, double down, get serious about taking pictures. Whenever we went on vacation, we would go to Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming to capture the landscapes. By 2007, we had traveled to all four corners of the US. We put 292,000 miles on the Subaru in six years.”
Les began to show his work at the Gilpin County Fair, the Central City Visitor’s Center and realized he needed to get out and take more pictures, add to his inventory. Last year he was a part of the Gilpin County Open Studio Tour, but the eight years of struggling with his leg injury kept him from getting on the art fair circuit in the summer. Trying to put up a tent was too much.
The shows he did manage to enter enabled him to pay for a new camera and the mats and frames for the work he had.
Les is now anticipating the upcoming summer, getting strong enough to show his work and to get out and add to his collection.
“This year, I plan to have a real run at it. I am happy the library invited me to show my work and I am already being accepted into the summer art fairs on weekends.”