This month marks photographer Dave McGowen’s fourth one-man show in the gallery of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center.
He will be displaying 20 images from here in the refuge, including birds and deer. Other photos in his exhibition include elk from the Rocky Mountain National Park, sandhill cranes from New Mexico, and bear and moose from one of his more recent trips to Alaska. He’s been to Alaska six times, and he’s going back this summer.
“Alaska’s my favorite, just because we have so much wilderness and public land. And of course you have all the megafauna. I’m a big fan of the bears. They’re very impressive animals,” McGowen said.
He’s been to the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary and Refuge on the Katmai Peninsula three times with Lawton photographer Kenny Seals and to Katmai National Park once with Oklahoma City photographer Joe Messenbaum. And, he’s one of four photographers going to Anan Creek in the Tongas National Rainforest later this year.
Although these works are from all around the country, everything in this show was taken on public lands — national parks, national wildlife refuges and state wildlife management areas. McGowen said he thinks it’s really important to illustrate what’s out there for people to know. Some of them may only see a picture, but he hopes that’s enough to encourage them to be pro-wildlife, pro-environment and willing to save our natural lands.
“It’s always a privilege to show your furry photography. I think it’s a good thing to let people who don’t see a lot of the wildlife, to promote it a little bit,” he said Saturday as he arrived to hang his newest and best.
Refuge volunteer Donna Phillips said his show will be up through the end of February. The Refuge Visitor Center is at the Oklahoma 49-115 junction, and it’s open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Sometime prior to his first show in May 2010, McGowen took basic and advanced photography classes at Great Plains Technology Center taught by Fran Wehner. Around 2008 he joined the Wichita Wildlight Photographic Society and remains an active member today.
He says a lot of people come to the refuge in the middle of the day, and while it’s the greatest place to hike on a nice day, they don’t see any of the nocturnal animals. The best light for photographers is at dawn or twilight, and that’s also when McGowen can find the crepuscular variety.
“It’s like a window at either end of the day when wildlife photography is at its best,” he finds.
He shoots with both a Nikon D850 and a Nikon D500. For the bulk of his photos he uses a 600-mm lens because it can bring small creatures up close without disturbing them. For larger wildlife like deer, elk and bear, he swaps it out for a 400-mm lens.
McGowen was a field artillery surveyor when he retired from the Army in 2004 as a sergeant first class. As a Department of the Army civilian he’s been with Range Operations at Fort Sill for 15 years and serves as range operations officer running day-to-day operations.
Range Operations manages all the live fire activity and all the training that’s happening on Fort Sill. Its staff deconflicts various types of training that go on and makes sure everything is safe. If a unit is firing a particular weapon or a particular ammunition from one location, they make sure they’re not endangering anybody else. They also make sure the right amount of vertical airspace is reserved through the Federal Aviation Administration. Also, they maintain all the ranges to ensure they’re ready for units to train on.
For McGowen photography relieves the stress of his day job.
“It keeps me sane. I’ve always liked the outdoors, and I’ve been really interested in wildlife and animals. So I get a lot of enjoyment out of photography, both here on the refuge and around the country,” he said.