A Lens on His Native Land

Adventure Photographer Takes a New Look at Familiar Territory

By Kathy Ursprung

amera tripod as a selfie stick to capture images
David Polehn, right, uses his camera tripod as a selfie stick to capture images of himself and friends on a photography outing. Photos contributed by David Polehn

For photographer David Polehn, the spectacular Columbia River Gorge backdrop had become a little too familiar.

“One of the things that got me really going recently was an introduction to another location to photograph,” he says.

A member of the National Guard, David spent a year in school at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

“I ended up taking my camera out there and using my free time to take photos,” he says.

Expecting to find a fairly flat, uninspiring landscape, David discovered the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.

“It was gorgeous,” he says, “and just a good escape from school.”
It gave him a chance to develop his photographic skills and decide what he likes.

One morning in Oklahoma, after a late night learning to two-step and line dance with a friend, David woke early to a foggy landscape.

Andy Allison using a drone shows
This image taken by Andy Allison using a drone shows the lengths David is willing to go to for a photo.

“I had an instant vision of a foggy buffalo,” he says.

David headed out to the wildlife refuge with that particular goal in mind and found just the buffalo waiting for him.

“I like finding situations where I know there’s beauty,” David says.

If that means climbing to the edge of a cliff to get the best view, that’s what he does.

Photographing water is a particular favorite of David’s.

“I like to emphasize the reflection,” he says, explaining that low-angle shots create the best reflective images. “I’ll put the camera right next to the water and risk destroying the camera on a regular basis. At a steeper angle, you get a lot of light coming down.”

He also enjoys the way small rapids can seem like brush strokes in moving water, as demonstrated in a photo he took of Major Creek on the Washington side of the Gorge.

Even a stack of bricks reflected in a mud puddle is a source of inspiration. While looking for inspiration in his home territory it was natural for David to find it in water.

A lone buffalo takes on the shape
A lone buffalo takes on the shape of the surrounding boulders in this foggy image David took at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma while he was training at Fort Sill.

“I found a goal for myself,” he says. “I found a waterfall here in Wasco County that I had no idea existed. Then I got to looking at a list of the waterfalls in Wasco County.”

David’s goal is to photograph all of those waterfalls, no matter how remote. One of those he is most excited about is Mill Creek Falls, which requires a special permit to access.

“It’s an escape thing,” he says.

After a lifetime of taking photographs for fun, David decided to tackle the business side of the art and put his images up for sale earlier this year.

“I started a T-shirt business once and failed miserably at it,” he says. “This is my way of re-exploring doing a hobby business.”

One thing David has observed from other art photographers is that they often don’t take the time to organize their work. His engineering background comes through when he talks about his structural approach to art.

A Lens on His Native Land
Taken with a slow shutter speed, this waterfall photo captures the movement of the water.

“I take a bunch of pictures, but only focus on a couple out of my day,” he says.

The buffalo photo is his most popular. Another popular choice has a decidedly industrial bent: turbines at the decommissioned White River Falls power plant. The muted light captures the rich colors of aging metal and peeling paint.

“It’s an honor when somebody buys my stuff,” David says.

David’s photography is for sale at The Dalles Art Center, Sunshine Mill, Bill’s Barber Shop, and Route 30 Bottles and Brews.