501 photographers capture the seasons

More than a year ago, 501 LIFE asked photographers Mike Kemp, Bill Patterson and Todd Owens to select a location in Central Arkansas that they would capture throughout the year for this “Celebrating the Seasons” edition.

Their photos are stunning and we thank them for their time and hard work on this assignment. Enjoy! — Sonja J. Keith

‘One of the most beautiful places’

Story and photos
by Mike Kemp

In the 20 years my family has lived in Central Arkansas, I’ve grown to love Petit Jean. From family hiking trips, anniversary cabins and motorcycle rides when I could steal away for a couple of hours, it’s become a favorite destination of mine.

When it was decided that 501 would have a “Seasons” feature where three photographers would cover one spot in the 501 area code over four seasons, I knew without hesitation where I wanted to choose.

Fall was the first season I documented, as it fell nearest to the beginning of the project. I made a hike to Cedar Falls when I felt like the colors were right. In reality, the mountain seemed almost like cheating because it is such a beautiful place to begin with. It really wasn’t that difficult to find spots along the way to capture the color as the cooler weather approached.

I try to make a trek up the mountain every fall and generally find myself making the hike to the falls. There are so many spots to stop along Cedar Creek to capture the colors lining the steep ravine that carves itself out of the middle of the park.

For the first time, I made a visit to Petit Jean during snowfall. I missed several opportunities, but a late winter storm and a couple of days off from work gave me the motivation to capture snowy scenes from Stout’s Point on the mountain’s east side. It felt like I was the only one in the park and the snow had silenced the entire world.

I photographed there and tried to get some shots of Davies Bridge over Cedar Creek, missing one shot I had envisioned due to a fallen tree that could not bear the weight of the ice coating it. I moved along the creek to photograph limbs that had ice formations clinging to them created by the rushing waters of the creek.

It seems like only a short while after that my wife, Crystal, and I made a drive up the mountain again, this time to capture the dogwoods that began blooming all over the mountain to usher in spring. I tried in vain to catch other wildflowers blooming on the mountain but just never could coordinate my schedule with theirs.

Summer was the most difficult. The death of my sister limited my trips to the mountain until July when I decided it was time to watch a moon rise. A “super moon” rose one evening, and my family joined me. It was a wonderful time to spend with my wife and daughters. There were several other photographers who had decided the same vantage point was ideal, so there was some jockeying for position while we all waited for the moon.

Once the moon began to creep above the horizon, it was clear that it would not be a large moon but was sufficiently bright. In addition, a tugboat pushing several barges slowly chugged into view on the Arkansas River, which helped balance out the composition nicely. I took several photos until the light dropped low enough to prevent decent exposures and the boat moved out of the frame.

Despite finishing the project, I still expect to make trips up the mountain at every opportunity. In fact, I found myself with a few spare hours this weekend and made a dash on my motorcycle up to Stout’s Point just to clear my head. It’s a destination that is almost in our back yard yet feels worlds away and in my opinion is one of the most beautiful places in the state.

The Old Mill

Story and photos
by Bill Patterson

When 501 LIFE approached me with the idea of “Seasons in the 501,” my first thought was the Old Mill in North Little Rock. 

It is such an iconic place, having been used in the credits of “Gone With the Wind.” Another reason for my interest in the Old Mill goes back to when I renewed my interest in photography with my first true professional digital camera. About this same time, I saw an incredible picture of the Old Mill in full spring splendor done by my good friend Kay Taylor. At the time of her picture, Kay lived near the mill and took the picture that became my envy. The dogwoods were at peak bloom and her photograph captured it perfectly. 

While I can say none of my photographs have matched Kay’s picture, it did set me on a course of many trips there. I began a journey to capture the Old Mill in various lights and seasons. I have also used photographs from there in many charity auctions and it always seems to gather lots of attention. It’s also interesting to hear others tell of their memories there.   

As the “Seasons in the 501” progressed, I have enjoyed seeing many people from all over the country visiting. I have seen numerous senior pictures, bridal shots and a few weddings taking place. As I have been there for the early light, I’ve gotten to interact with the Friends of the Old Mill, the volunteer organization that works on the upkeep.

They do a great job of maintaining the beauty of it.

The “Seasons in the 501” project was great fun. My favorite season to shoot surprisingly was the winter snow. Usually snow pictures are bland with no color. This time the Old Mill’s contrasting stonework was set off in its majestic beauty by the snow.

This project was great fun and I look forward to many more “Seasons in the 501.”

Alive with color

Story and photos
by Todd Owens

Each year during the fall season, there is a particular Conway neighborhood that comes alive with colors that are so picturesque and beautiful. I often use this location for family portraits or senior photos because of the wonderful colors and traditional hometown theme.  

When deciding on a location for the “Seasons in the 501” project, I immediately thought of this home, thinking it would represent each season with the same unrelenting charm.