A former Ottawan turned a hobby into an eye-catching puzzle.
Kevin Anderson, a 1981 Ottawa High School graduate, took up photography as a teen in Ottawa, learning the basics in 4-H and yearbook. He is a former projectionist at Plaza Cinema, 209 S. Main St., Ottawa.
“I learned to do my own darkroom,” Anderson said. “I did point and shoot at that time.”
Anderson bought his first 35mm camera from OK Photo on Main Street in Ottawa.
“I did my own black and white photos,” Anderson said. “I exhibited them in the fair. Nothing really did wonderful. I enjoyed the process.”
He took off nearly a couple of decades from his hobby, spending six years in the Navy and went into an electronics technician field.
“When I got some time and interest and digital cameras started coming out — so I did not have to pay for film — then I decided I wanted to get more into photography,” Anderson said. “I started learning the art of photography. Learning the craft of it.”
He learned quickly. He dubbed himself, “The Back Roads Photographer.” He takes photos of everything found on the backroads of America.
“I don’t have a set style,” Anderson said. “I can see I photograph certain things a certain way.”
In early September 2016, he set out to the Grinter Farm, located near Lawrence, to photograph a field of sunflowers. The day he went, they closed down Highway 24 because of the heavy traffic heading to the farm, he said.
“I got in and out of there before that,” Anderson said. “I was there before dawn and there were already over a 100 cars there before the sun rose. The photo [I took] was shortly after sunrise. I had good light on the sunflowers, which were facing the rising sun. I have some photos of them looking at the sun. I call those my sun worshippers.”
Anderson saw a website post from a company looking for landscape photos. Anderson said companies post all the time wanting certain photos.
“We as photographers post what we think might fit what they want,” he said. “It goes through a process and then they might actually buy the photo. They wanted a royalty-free image. I had the image done [from Grinter Farm]. They wanted vivid landscapes from around the world. There were close to 1,080 photographers that submitted multiple images. Out of that, they short-listed 224. I was glad mine was one of the ones short-listed. There were flowers from Holland. They chose eight out of all that many photos. There is this landscape from Kansas ... in a state that is ranked 50th in landscapes [that was selected].”
Anderson said Hinkler Publishers from Australia bought his sunflower photo to print on their new line of Mindbogglers puzzles. Anderson said the photo became one of his favorites. He said the farm is one of his favorite places to take photos.
“It is a neat place,” he said. “It has garnered quite a bit of notoriety. There are hundreds of people there [everyday]. I was out there a couple of years before. I like getting out there in the morning. You are limited to what type of pictures you can get at that point. One of things I love is on a wet dewey morning, the bees are wet and stuck onto the flowers. You can get some wonderful shots.”
This year, he took a different approach and went in the evening and used a longer lens to capture a different view.
“I used compression and it made the sunflowers stack on themselves,” he said.
Anderson, who lives in Merriam, searches for photo subjects out in the country away from the cities. Some of the photos on his website show old barns, rustic vintage tractors and cars, birds and other animals and landscapes. He said on his site, “The back roads that I shoot can be found most anywhere.”
“I go through a process that I look for my go-to subjects,” Anderson said. “That is minimalism, old and rusty and neat architectural abstracts. It could be cars...something that catches my eye that I know I am interested in. Once I see it, I take a photograph right away. Then I start walking around finding that different angle. There are a lot of different ways of viewing things.”
He got his start selling photographs by chance. He said near Rantoul there used to be a motorcycle track where they had races, called Air Scrambles. He would take photos of the riders and then return for the next race and sell them.
“I was at a race in Kansas and talked to a photographer and she took me under her wing,” Anderson said. “There was a local magazine for Air Scramble races around the midwest. She had a race she could not cover. She had me take photos and write the story. I actually did some photojournalism.”
Anderson, who went to kindergarten and the first part of his first-grade year in Ottawa, remembers putting together puzzles with his mother.
“It was the typical puzzles from everywhere in the world,” Anderson said. “It was always fun. I don’t recall putting together a puzzle from Kansas.”
He hopes to end that drought real soon. He has yet to find time to put together the puzzle of the Grinter Farm’s sunflower, but plans to have a special moment with his mother.
“Now for Christmas this year, I plan on sitting down with my mom and doing this puzzle,” Anderson said as he pointed at the box full of puzzle pieces of the Kansas sunflowers.