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Wading through the wetlands

Friday, August 11, 2006

Peter Schmunck and G.R. DavisSPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Dr. G.R. Davis, professor of biology, and Dr. Peter Schmunk, chair and professor of fine arts, braved the elements and gave up four seasons of Sundays to take photos of the Cottonwood Trail for a new Hub City Writer’s Project book.  “Cottonwood Trail: Glimpses of Wildness in the Heart of Spartanburg” will be published this fall.

“Our goal in the book was to make Spartanburg aware that this place is there so that people will go to and appreciate this preserve.  I think people will see the pictures and say, ‘Wow, they saw this on the Cottonwood Trail,’” Davis says.

The trail runs down Lawson’s Fork Creek and includes a wetland tributary area that is home to animals such as wild turkeys, deer, snakes and birds like the Great Blue Heron. Because the creek floods the trail a few times each year, the area also includes debris like plastic, toys and other garbage.

“At first I was put off by the weedy trashiness of the place because it is in a flood plain,” Schmunk says. “The area is dominated by invasive species.”

Schmunk says that he and Davis looked beyond the weeds and found “beautiful, massive trees” that are “very tall and noble examples of their kind.”

“We’ve photographed a couple dozen flower species through the year,” he says. “I would often wander right through the wetlands.”

While wandering through the wetlands, the pair took seasonal pictures that help divide the book into five sections.  “The opening section has what we believe to be the most impressive photos,” says Davis.  “The remainder of the book is divided seasonally.”

According to Davis, each section includes 20 pictures made from the 85-acre preserve renamed to honor Edwin M. Griffin.  Other photos accompany some 20 essays written by Thomas Webster.  All of the photos were taken as slides with the “old-fashioned Nikon cameras” that both prefer.  The winter pictures were more difficult to take because there was no snow.  The ice storm in December 2005, however, helped the pair finish the project.

The Cottonwood Trail book is not the first collaboration between Davis and Schmunk.  While teaching a photography Interim, Davis invited Schmunk to talk with the class about his photography, which tends toward landscape and architecture.  Davis, on the other hand, gravitates toward scenes that show humor in everyday life.  Although their styles differ, the two formed a bond and began finding time to explore and photograph together.

Davis and Schmunk have backpacked in the Appalachians several times, traveled the back roads of South Carolina and sponsored four foreign-study Interims together: 2001 in Sicily; 2003 in Amsterdam, Paris and Provence; 2005 in the region between Barcelona and Nice; and 2006 in Rome, Florence and Venice.

“It doesn’t matter, close to home or half way around the world, we enjoy wandering, taking pictures and talking about what we see,” says Schmunk.

Davis adds that working with an art historian has made him more aware of the composition of his photos.

“Before I would take pictures and not think about the colors and the arrangement. Now, after working with Peter, I’m more conscious of that,” he says.