The area lost its finest chronicler of news and one of the state’s best photographers Tuesday night.
Bruce A. Binning, who captured the area’s life in photographs for the Denison Bulletin and Review for more than 50 years, died at his home in Denison Tuesday evening. He had been dealing with health issues for more than a year and a half.
Bruce’s ability to capture unique perspectives on events - from celebrations to disasters and moments in everyday life - earned him a multitude of honors - approximately 300 photography awards in a variety of contests, including those sponsored by the Iowa Newspaper Association (INA).
On February 5, 2016, he was presented with the INA’s Distinguished Service Award. The award honors long-time journalists for their contributions to the newspaper profession and to their communities.
At the awards presentation, it was said that Bruce is possibly the best known person in his community and is gifted in capturing a moment in just the right way, which resulted in thousands of people touched by his photographs.
But more than awards, Bruce was gratified by the compliments given by the people he photographed and by those who enjoyed his photographs of news and events, and landscape and wildlife.
While no longer with us physically, Bruce lives on through his body of work. I believe it is a legacy that can teach us a better way to look at the world around us.
He had an instinctive ability to use light, angles and framing to transfer the essence of a subject onto a piece of photo paper, a sheet of newsprint or a computer monitor.
In the seemingly ordinary sights that people routinely pass by, Bruce used that innate ability to see the extraordinary and create works of art.
An old windmill that many might dismiss became a colorful reminder of our past, with the purple and red hues of the setting sun warming the wood and metal frame. Having the forethought to slow the shutter speed made the stationary windmill come alive through the blur of spinning vanes.
The heads of foxtails growing as weeds in a roadside ditch blaze like gold jewelry, photographed against the backlighting of the setting sun.
A low-angle view of a rural scene draws people into the photograph past the corn husks of last fall’s harvest and toward the main subject of the photograph - an old barn.
Bruce’s legacy can also be seen in the photographs he took of the multiple generations of area residents, often multiple generations of the same families, freezing forever in time little slices of their lives. These were not necessarily pivotal events in their lives, although he did that, too.
He used his talents to tell the story about everyday moments - a young child sitting on a retaining wall with the bubbles he is releasing from a wand frozen in the air, a teacher pointing out the blazing colors of a tree while taking students on a field trip in the autumn, or a man or woman taking a dog on a walk, the distance they have yet to travel emphasized by a low camera angle.
Bruce would often tell stories about the people he photographs at different stages in their lives – from baby or toddler to an adult with children or grandchildren of their own.
The effect of Bruce’s photography on people can be illustrated by phrases we’ve often heard: “I remember when Bruce took my picture when I was ---.” And: “I still have that newspaper clipping (or photograph).”
During Dow City’s sesquicentennial celebration over the Memorial Day weekend, Richard Rose, who does buckskinning demonstrations, told me how Bruce and his wife, Joyce, would invite him along on excursions when they lived in Deloit, including his first sledding experience. Rose said that Bruce always made a point to take his photograph when he was demonstrating his hobby at events, like Kiron Heritage Days.
At the same celebration, Mary Ellen Harre mentioned how Bruce would always look forward to taking photographs of her brother, Buzz Putnam (now deceased), when he farmed with old equipment. Bruce had an affinity for equipment and machines that showed how things were done in the “old” days.
He enjoyed photographing out-of-the-way places that some may know only by an exit sign on the interstate. He reveled in the character of these places, and revealed their character in his photographs. Among these locations is Orson (population 11, elevation 1050, according to the photo he took of a sign), a town in Harrison County.
Bruce had a love for the vistas offered by the Loess Hills and the tops of hills along lesser-used roads, sharing the beauty he saw in the outdoors with others.
That was the magic of his photography - capturing a slice of extraordinary art in something others might view as ordinary. We can relate to it because we’ve been there, or someplace similar, and know the feel of the wind and heat or the cold on our skin, the smell of grass or leaves or crops in a field, and the sounds of the outdoors. Bruce brought to us the experience of being there through his photographs.
Through his body of work, Bruce not only lives on but leaves us with an important lesson – to take time to really see the people and the world around us, to take time to view our world from different angles and in a different light.
He will be missed.