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La Grange photo show documents America’s vanishing West

Photographer Charles Klingsporn says he’s felt a strong affinity for the American West ever since his family took a road trip to the region when he was a teenager and he saw real-life cowboys working the range.

Since then, the retired Chicago school administrator (whose career includes 20 years at New Trier high school) has spent as much time there as possible and devoted increasing effort to recording it photographically. He’s also become more concerned in recent years about encroachments on the environment. Many of his photos are currently on display in “The American West: A Photographer’s Journey” at the La Grange Art League and Gallery.

“Some of these places as we know them today won’t be around indefinitely if things don’t change,” said Klingsporn, who noted that oil fields and hydraulic fracturing are commonplace in Wyoming, western Nebraska, Kansas and eastern Colorado. “So I’m trying to perpetuate them as much as I can.”

Klingsporn, a mostly self-taught photographer, said his environmental concerns grew out of his love of exploring Olympic National Park in Washington, Yosemite in California, Yellowstone in Wyoming and, especially, the Rocky Mountains, often in search of a very specific image.

“I love having the opportunity to see something fresh,” he said. “And waiting for that moment when the setting and the light is going to be just what you envision.

“I might be looking for light from the sunrise in the winter in a certain location in Yellowstone, where I know there are likely to be some snow-covered boulders. The longer you do this, the more you try to visualize what you want to see rather than just seeing what happens to be there.”

And the right image, Klingsporn believes, deserves to be properly printed, often on painter’s canvas and often quite large. Of the 30 photos in the show, roughly half are printed on canvas including panoramic shots that are three-feet—even five-feet—wide.

“A well-done, large image on canvas, will give you a much greater impression of what it was like to see it for real,” he said. “Much more so than a 700-pixel image on a monitor.”

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