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 Nature Photography of Les Blacklock

Les Blacklock, 1921-1995

Les felt a strong need to share his experiences with others, but just telling them about what he had seen didn't get the reaction he wanted. He needed a camera. When he was nine years old the neighborhood kids organized a backyard circus. Les' share of the profits was $1.04. He ran to the drugstore to see if the blue leatherette Brownie Rainbow Hawkeye camera was still in the window. It was, and it was on sale for $.98.

He bought it, and went out stalking wildlife, but it didn't take long to realize the camera's limitations. Flying ducks became tiny blurs on the film, and if he got close to a hiding snowshoe hare, he was too close to focus. Les experimented with different devices to overcome the problems, but it wasn't until he was fifteen, using his father's Kodak 120 pocket camera on a family vacation out West that he began blossoming into a real photographer. The results were encouraging, and Les knew then that he would be back many times to document the wildlife and magnificent scenery.

Les graduated from Duluth Junior College soon after the United States entered World War II. He joined the 10th Mountain Infantry, and after two years as a ski instructor, glacier and rock climber, platoon sergeant Blacklock was ready for mountain warfare. But it didn't work out that way. Les' 86th regiment was disbanded. He volunteered for combat duty, and spent 18 months in the jungles of the southwest Pacific. He returned home to Moose Lake in time for Christmas, 1945.

In 1947, while taking nature-related courses in writing, art and natural history at the University of Minnesota, Les met his wife-to-be, Fran Jordan. They were married that October, and went on a canoe trip honeymoon in northern Minnesota (later recounted by Fran in her text for the book, Our Minnesota).

That first winter, Les lived with white-tail deer on the shore of Lake Superior, filming the motion picture, Deer Live With Danger, which was distributed by Encyclopedia Britannica Films.

In the summer of 1948 Les and Fran spent 4 1/2 months camping on Isle Royale in Lake Superior where Les made his second motion picture, Stalking the Royale Moose. From 1952 to 1956 Les was photographer-director for Empire Photosound, a producer of commercial films.

In 1957 Les returned to freelancing, photographing big game, primarily with a 4x5 Graphlex camera. He did some films, too: two fishing movies for Johnson Reels, and a tourist promotion film, Ghost Town Montana. Eventually, Les felt he had to choose between making motion pictures or concentrating on still photography. He opted for the later, returning to his childhood desire of sharing the wilds with others through his images, often with accompanying lectures or written text.

Les' career as a nature photographer was given a big boost when he teamed with his friend, Sigurd F. Olson, of Ely Minnesota. Sig's works and Les' photographs were combined in the book, The Hidden Forest, published by Viking in 1969. Les' second book with Viking, The High West (1974), combined his western mountain photographs with Canadian, Andy Russell's stories.

Les' career was filled with varied work and assignments. One of is steadiest customers was Hamm's Beer, and Les' Land of Sky Blue Waters pictures with a red canoe became synonymous with the local brew.

Bob Dubois, founder of Voyageur Press, suggested that Les supply pictures for a Minnesota calendar. The first Minnesota Seasons was published in 1973. In 1976, Les and Fran's son, Craig joined the family business. Together, Les and Craig did the photography for as many as four calendar titles a year for Voyageur Press. When Bob Dubois saw the interest in Les' calendar captions, he asked Les to write and photograph a book of his own. The result was Meet My Psychiatrist, published in 1977, and a second, similar book, Ain't Nature Grand!, released three years later.

Our Minnesota Our Minnesota (1978), was a compilation of favorite calendar photographs. Fran wrote the text. In 1983 Voyageur Press published Minnesota Wild, a coffee-table book with text and pictures by Les and Craig depicting the state's varied ecosystems.

In the 1960's and '70s Les occasionally worked as a consulting naturalist, helping to plan over thirty natural areas, parks and nature centers. Both Les and Fran were instrumental in establishing a park around Anderson Lakes in Eden Prairie. Included in the park is the land they lived on for over twenty years.

In 1975-76 Les, Fran, Craig and his photographer/wife Nadine moved to rural Moose Lake, becoming neighbors on the same land. The Blacklocks planned their homes overlooking a beaver lake with the idea of willing them as a retreat for people to work on nature-related projects. This was the beginning idea behind Blacklock Nature Sanctuary, which now holds over 440 acres and will eventually include the Blacklock homes and land as well.

Les served on numerous boards including the Sigurd Olson Environmental Center, the Metropolitan Park Reserve Board, the North Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, and the Audubon Center of the North Woods. In recognition of his photography and his work as an interpretive naturalist, Les received the following awards: Association of Interpretive Naturalists (1976). Mid Continent Regional Park and Recreations Conference (1977), YMCA Camp Olson "Keeper of the Dream" (1978), State of Minnesota Certificate of Commendation (1982), Northwoods Audubon, "Marav Borell" (with Fran, 1990). In 1985 he was awarded an honorary PhD degree by Northland College when he gave the commencement address.

Les was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in the mid-1980s, ending his ability to work with the camera. The business he and Fran started in the 1950's is was continued by Craig and Nadine until Nadine's death in 1998. Craig continues to publish images by all of the Blacklocks

Les finally succumbed to the ravages of Parkinson's disease in 1995. He was a gentle man who never lost his delight in the natural world. Even in his disease and drug-induced hallucinatory state prior to his death, he had a sense of wonder about his favorite apparitions that would appear near the bird feeders out the window - the leaf dancers.




2002 Book Award Winner

 -- Seven years after the death of nature photographer Les Blacklock, his widow, Fran, published "The Journey", a slim volume that contains elements of mystery, adventure and nature. --Robert Franklin, Star Tribune

As readers discover the highlights of this journey "from the rugged Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to the thriving urban center of the Twin Cities" they understand something else as well. "Les and I have had an incurable love affair with Minnesota for many years now," writes Fran. And within the pages of Our Minnesota, it shows.

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Photographers (professional and amateur):

3 Photo Prints + 40 Free

The Blacklock's

Jim Brandenburg

Tom & Christie Kearney

Deborah Sussex

Layne Kennedy

Ken Harmon

Erik W. L. Anderson - Photo Prints

Curt Stahr

Dennis O'Hara

Jay Steinke

FREE film developing


Lynn Rogers

Lorraine Anderson

Kevin Birznieks


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