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From atop the ladder

If you want to be considered a good photographer, here are a couple of tips:

No. 1, take 300 pictures of something, and only show people the good one. Delete all the rest. I employ this one regularly.

No. 2, take the pictures no one else takes.

And for that, there’s the ladder.

If there’s anything that I could be consider my signature, it’s the eight-foot extension ladder I’ve attached onto the back of my SUV.

It’s an oddity that generates notoriety. After exchanging names with a new acquaintance, I’ve often been asked, “Are you the guy with the ladder on his car?” It’s hard to be anonymous when driving around the county on weekends, as surely the next week someone will say, “Hey, I saw you and your ladder up around Pilsen,” or “What were you doing over by Goessel on Saturday?”

These days, with the car temporarily kaput, the comments still keep coming: “Hey, where’s your ladder? I haven’t seen it lately.”

So, for better or worse, I’m the ladder guy.

I bought the ladder at an auction west of Galva years ago. I didn’t need one, wasn’t looking for one, but in one of those spontaneous auction moments, I bid $10. Nobody else bid.

I’m not sure what sparked the idea to mount the ladder on the back of the car for taking pictures, but once it hit, it had to happen. Since there are no stock blueprints for such contraptions, it took a couple of hours of aimless wandering in building and farm supply stores to figure out how to do it. I couldn’t ask for help because I didn’t know what I was looking for.

Crazy as it was, it was one of the best things I’ve done for taking pictures, because climbing it puts me where no other photographer has ventured.

Whether it’s bands and floats in the Old Settlers Day parade, sunsets reflected in ponds, dozens of kids releasing helium balloons, or taking a panorama of Marion, I get angles on subjects no one else gets.

They’re different from those of other photographers, and because that’s the case, people notice.

It’s really a lot like the newspaper business.

Our job is to find angles on the community our readers don’t typically see, find stories no one else is telling, and tell them in engaging ways. Judging by feedback from readers and a record year of Kansas Press Association awards (pardon the pun), we do a pretty good job of scaling the ladder, although on occasion we might miss a rung or two.

The view from up there is often beautiful and heartwarming. Other times it’s odd or puzzling, and sometimes it’s ugly, maddening, or heartbreaking. All of it is worth seeing because it gives you, the reader, a different angle from which to see and understand what’s going on in your hometown.

We also like it when people tell us where to look when we’re perched on that ladder. If they’re curious about something, others will be, too.

There’s too much storied history here to ever change our name to Marion County Ladder, and we wouldn’t want confused folks calling us to paint their house or fight a fire.

But we are, in a way, just like that contraption on the back of my car. We’re the community’s ladder, finding new angles from which to view life along Luta Creek. Thanks for climbing up with us each week to check out the view.

— david colburn

Last modified Aug. 13, 2015

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