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  • Mike

We went to Gitchie Manitou State Preserve. And we shot film!

We needed some photos for a news story and decided to make our trek to Gitchie Manitou a chance to do photography since we had to go there anyway for work. Wanting a challenge I suggested that both myself and my girlfriend Caitlyn French, use a couple of SLR cameras and only shoot our necessary photojournalist photos with a digital camera.

Gitchie Manitou State Preserve is right on the edge of Iowa and sits on the Iowa side of the Big Sioux river. The site is nestled between cornfields and the river. The Big Sioux is the boundary between Iowa and South Dakota. Gitchie Manitou gets its name from the Indian words for “great spirit, or “powerful nature.” It also is one of the few places where one can see exposed outcroppings of the rare Sioux Quartzite rock. This rock can be very beautiful because it takes on pink hues.

The park is made famous for the 1973 Gitchie Manitou murders, a case that reads like the aftermath of a badly written horror flik. Three brothers murdered four teenagers in order to steal their weed, and then took a 13 year old girl, Sandra Cheskey back to their farm and raped her. You can read about it here. Wikipedia. Sandra Cheskey is releasing a book about the murders and that was our reason for going to the park, we needed photos of the park and to get a chance to get a feel for the place.

When we got to the park there wasn’t much in the way of people, we saw two people with several dogs running loose walking back to their pickup, and that was it. We got our cameras out of the car and loaded them with film and set off. Caitlyn used my Canon Rebel X and I used an old Ricoh XR-10 with a 50mm lens. I have some other Pentax K lenses that would work with it but wanted to have a challenge. We loaded both cameras with a roll of Holga 400 B&W film. This film is very cheap on Amazon and wasn’t going to be hard to use. The weather was very overcast and foggy, and the fast film did a good job for us.

We first trekked down into the river bottom and shot several pictures there. I found some interesting trash among the leaves. My Ricoh is fully manual and I had to guess as best I could at my exposure and hope for the best because light meters are for noobs. (and people better than me) The Holga film does very well to create great contrast even in the overcast setting sun.

The river bottom was extremely muddy so we didn't try to do much exploring there. Instead we went back to the main trail which is actually a road, and headed along it as it worked its way closer to the river. Along the way we found a wonderful bird's nest. The photos of which I think are very nice.

MMM! Film Bokeh!

Cait's shot. Wonderful exposure from that old Rebel.

In the park is a building, possibly an old grainery, that has been spraypainted by vandals who have come after the first book about the murders was published. The quartzite remains have been vandalized at an extreme level. There was a stench of spraypaint there. The entire surface of the walls was covered with spraypaint. The patchy snow, drab sky, and ruins all combined in a place where there was a murder to create a surreal and chilling feeling.

We eventually got as close to the site of the murders as we could find when comparing reference images to the location. The area had a creepy vibe, there were no birds chirping and the air was very still. It was dusk and was getting dark fast when we photographed the murder site. After snapping our photos for work we headed back out of the park directly to our car.

The park is actually really nice, and I'm sure if you forget about the murders, or at least aren't bothered by the fact that someone was murdered many years ago, this park would be a very nice place to spend time with nature. There are indian burial mounds here as well, but the park has a peaceful atmosphere to it. This was an exciting place to visit and I'm sure we will be back in the spring. I highly recommend you visit this place if you are ever in the Sioux Falls area and want to get into nature.

The cameras performed very well. Developing was over fast and I soon had dry negatives to scan in. My exposures were not as good as Caitlyn and her Rebel with metering could do with ease. No matter how hard I tried the fact of the matter is that Canon made a very good camera line, and 20 years of progress shows starkly how good we have it. The Ricoh has it's place but if my life depended on it I wouldn't use it.

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