where did all the buffalo go?
Written by Marina May
will bauer, a 21 year old st. louis native and all around free spirit,
slings his 35 mm camera around his shoulders while he travels across the country in his infinite youth. Along his way, he produces photographs that encapsulate the experience of Jack Kerauac’s On the Road, shuttling the viewer through some of the most remote places in the States. He is young, energetic, and with a keen eye, he’s eager to transport us from the Black Hills of South Dakota, to the redwood forests of NorCal.
“I focus on the voids. The quiet,” says Bauer. He ensures that every image evokes the nostalgia of a time and place forgotten in the immediacy of technology.
It appears that he grants us unprecedented access to the Sierra Mountains at dawn, while the haze rolls through jagged peaks towering upward into the expansive sky. Or invites us to sense the buzz of microscopic insects patrolling the wild grass as a buffalo eats his morning meal. His photographs encapsulate the pregnant pauses, the deep breath before the plunge, and the lost. Perhaps the most striking aspect of his work is the way in which he measures the world turning past these moments, implying that these places feel forgotten, but remain all too seductive if you know where to look.
He does this all through film, and capturing these solitary moments during his various jobs working for environmental government agencies like the National Park service.
Bauer is entirely self-taught, and by that he means he didn’t go to art school. But he did have guidance back in St. Louis, as he was just beginning to experiment with digital photography.
“I hung around photographers back home. I observed, and got to know their work.” Bauer continues to say that he essentially mirrored their style, until he got comfortable with his own. From there he moved from digital to old-school 35 mm film.
“I was working for the National Park Service in North Dakota. While I was in town one day, I walked into thrift shop and found $10 Life camera from the 80s… Most of my first photos didn’t turn out, but the ones that did had a really cool feel, with the grain and the saturation of colors. They perfectly projected my sense of wonder.”
When asked about the difference between shooting with digital versus film, he cites the complexities of the unknown, patience, and the consecrated single frame.
“If I go out with my digital camera, I can take thousands of photographs. Working with film forces me to sit there and think about what I’m shooting, and how I’m going to shoot it, while factoring in time of day – each photo I get off the roll of film is more sacred than 5000 on a digital camera.”
And although Bauer moves consistently, he regards St. Louis as one of the best places to begin experimenting with the arts, and has received fantastic support from the community.
When asked what influenced him to pursue photography, he responds “St. Louis will always have a piece of my heart, that’s home. The arts movement on Cherokee has always inspired me. I spent so much time walking up and down that street.”
He also draws inspiration from famous 18th and 19th century painters, namely James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s Nocturne Series, which focuses less on traditional landscape and more on the emotive qualities of color, light, and composition.
He continues by lauding those who have taught him, stating, “I am forever inspired by and eternally grateful for the artistic community in St. Louis. It’s different from all the other places I’ve been because the people are filled with humility, passion, and shared sense of wanting to do more with what we have. You meet a lot of really humble people who are passionate about what they’re doing solely for the sake of doing what they’re passionate about.”
Look out for Bauer’s forthcoming photography book, with proceeds donated toward wildlife funds. When available, you can purchase it through Silver Space events, at www.silverspacestl.com, or on Will’s website https://www.wbauerphotography.com/.