Timothy Fontenot of Lake Charles photographs marshes and bayous of Southwest Louisiana
Photography for Timothy Fontenot of Lake Charles has become a spiritual journey that has taken him from the world of industrial control and power systems to the marshes, bayous and flowered pasturelands of south Louisiana.
In recent years, Fontenot has created an impressive body of photographs that capture the natural poetry of the landscape. His images of delicate lilies and lotus blossoms floating on black water, or a red cypress standing silhouetted against warm radiant sunlight are examples of why nature photography has drawn so many to the natural landscape of south Louisiana. Few places can compete with the beauty of a brilliant sunset on a golden marsh or blood-red clouds absorbing the last burst of light before the sun sinks below the horizon. It has been irresistible to scores of other nature photographers and now Timothy Fontenot.
Fontenot’s venture into nature photography began late in life. Born in Lake Charles, he grew up in Woodland, Lake Charles and Moss Bluff. After graduating from McNeese State University in 1973, he and his wife, Gerry, moved to Houston where he worked as an electrical designer for a large engineering company. Later, jobs took them back to Lake Charles, Saudi Arabia, Monroe, Dallas and finally back again to Lake Charles. They now reside in Moss Bluff about six miles north of Lake Charles not far his family’s old homestead. During these many moves, Fontenot picked up photography in 1974 as a hobby. A year later their first child was born. “It was all about people photography in those days,” he says. When the engineering market tanked out in the 1980s, his hobby became a full-time job. “I shot pageants, teams, portraits and weddings,” he recalls. “If it stayed kind of still and it didn’t fuss at me, I shot it. However, I longed for the days when photography was fun. I realized it had become a job that supported my family. So, when the engineering business picked up again, I designated photography as a hobby again.”
Now retired, the self-taught, 65-year-old photographer has returned to the camera full time but with a difference. Since health problems prevent him from shooting weddings and other scheduled events, nature photography was the answer. “Today,” he explains, “it is my passion.” So far, he has focused that passion on south Louisiana. “These are my people,” he says. “This place they decided to call home is understandable. It’s beautiful.”
Fontenot sees each moments in nature as a prayer. “Whenever I am in the woods or shooting old barns or flowers, I see God present in nature more than anywhere else on earth,” he says, reflecting upon that spiritual connection to the land. “His handiwork is all around me and sometimes I say out loud, ‘Lord, You are somethin’ else!’ I want to create images that make him smile.” This is why he prefers to photograph the natural landscape rather than towns and cities. “I prefer nature’s architecture over man’s,” he explains. “Have you ever really looked at an autumn leaf, a flower petal, or even a blade of grass? What intricate craftsmanship. What incredible science and imagination went into building all things in nature. Isn’t it amazing? Now, tell me that all of this happened by accident.”
Fontenot also admits he can’t pass up an old graying barn in an overgrown meadow or pasture. “Of course, man has created some pretty amazing things, too,” he continues. “A 100-year-old barn with its weathered skin (boards) and its frail skeleton (framing) has character. It deserves being preserved for all time, complete with its character. A photograph can capture that if the photographer has the proper state of mind to get it. Whenever I encounter an old barn, I walk around to get a sense of it all and to pay my respects to its purpose for being. Then I begin to shoot. It has taken me 40 years to arrive at this place – Nature…Me…One.”
To capture those reverent moments, Fontenot prefers the warm light of early mornings or late afternoons. “I like the morning light with birds awakening and frisky squirrels,” he says. “A new day is bringing new adventures and new opportunities. The qualities of the morning light are softer with more quiet surroundings. Mornings are special. I like late afternoons and evenings, as well. The angles of shadows and light chasing each other reveal objects previously unseen. The light seems to be harder, and it reveals details more readily than morning light. Evening light seems to fade into darkness too quickly. The longer I stay, the longer the exposures, and the more mosquito bites I collect.”
Light and how it plays upon the landscape are major concerns for most visual artists, including famed photographer Ansel Adams, Fontenot’s “benchmark for excellence” in photography. “Adams is my favorite,” he explains. “His images appear to have been printed straight from his camera. Of course, he did tweak his photos, but you just can’t see any visible signs of tweaking. His finished prints have impact. They move me.” While earlier photographers such as Adams used “dodging and burning” techniques in the darkroom to enhance photographs, today’s digital technology and editing software enable photographers to get the exact image they want. “In tweaking images, the artist adds part of himself to the image,” says Fontenot. “I must give art consumers something these other guys cannot give – myself, my vision, my obsession with every little detail, my talent accumulated over 40 years. Attention to detail is an integral part of my fine art photography.”
Like Adams, Fontenot’s photographs seem to have moved others. His images have hung in numerous galleries, museums, restaurants and corporate offices throughout south Louisiana, including the Historic City Hall Arts and Cultural Center in Lake Charles and at the Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans. Though he rarely enters competitions, a popular national photography magazine ranked his photography among the best of 2012. Competitions aside, Fontenot simply enjoys being out in nature with his camera. “Fine art landscape photography is my passion,” he states. “I must get out and shoot and then create using computer software. I must. I am an artist. Creating art is what I love to do.”