By Mitchell J. Near
Captain Ahab spent his life in search of the great white whale, altering his existence to pursue it to the four corners of the earth. Don Gates has his own elusive prey, one that has caused him to change his own life course and learn a new skill. Don's now armed with a 35 millimeter Canon camera, and he's on a personal quest for a ... robin?
But not just any robin. This one is a rare albino with an orange breast. It resides around the Lonestar Lake area, and it almost seems to be a willing participant in this game of cat-and-mouse, playing with Gates and always popping up when he is without a camera.
The artist considers himself a nature buff, and he's entranced with the views around Clinton Lake, but it was that lone robin that turned him into a photographer.
"I've always been a birdwatcher," Gates says. "And about a year ago I spotted an albino robin. I thought it was too small to be a dove or pigeon, and when I got in front of it I saw the orange breast and knew it was a robin. And I didn't have a camera. Then I would see it again and again. Finally, I heard it whistle one day, and I looked over and it was sitting on a fence.
So I bought that camera and I haven't seen it since."
Several other bird lovers have, and they keep Gates attuned to its whereabouts, so now he keeps his camera at his side in case the suddenly camera-shy bird shows up for a portrait.
In the meantime, Gates has also been aiming his camera at several other subjects. He's shot architecture and city sights, but his main love remains nature settings. He's already developed quite an eye for color schemes and setting-up entrancing shots, and his work is garnering attention in the arts community.
He recently showed his work at Art in the Park, and that led to his latest exhibit of prints now on display at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt.
"I cross over the dam at the lake a lot, so that's my main subject. I see the sunrise every morning. There is a lot of neat stuff out there," Gates says. "I captured some stuff, like a recent sunrise, that had dark pink clouds, and then the hot pink sun broke into it. That put some nice pink and blue patterns on the lake."
Gates lives south of Lonestar, so his commute into town for his job as a USA Today contractor affords him plenty of photo opportunities that many people never realize exist. And so his photography is his way of sharing with others the things he sees daily. And if he could only get that pesky Robin in his lens sights, then Gates would truly be happy with his work.
"I feel there is great stuff out there that people don't get to see. So this is kind of like 'look what you're missing,'" he says. "The hardest part is just being there and seeing the right shot. Things like that don't last very long -- maybe 10 or 15 minutes and then they are gone."
-- The Mag can be reached at 832-7178.