Florida On Film

Hood River photographer Frank Menard broadens his horizons in low-lying southern locations

May 25, 2005

Frank Menard’s cousin in Florida had been pestering him for years to come to his sunny state to visit. “Get down here — you don’t know what’s down here unless you come,” his cousin would write.

“Too hot and humid,” Menard would respond.

“Come in the winter, then,” his cousin persisted.

Menard finally relented in February. He and his wife, Barbara, flew to Ft. Myers, Fla., for three weeks of fun and sun. And birds and reptiles.

Menard, 75, has been photographing wildlife and nature since the 1980s, before and after he retired from the Forest Service. Doing business as Northwest Scenic Photography, he has sold photos to national and international magazines and has had his works displayed on postcards, calendars, a billboard; even in the Los Angeles Times. Now he shoots mostly for the fun of it.

“I wasn’t making much money in the photo business,” he says. He learned from experience the importance of a good contract. One photo of Mount Hood and Lost Lake that he sold for use as a postcard, for $35, started showing up on place mats and calendars and such. While he is still glad to sell his photographs, he no longer markets them as aggressively.

About 3 and a half years ago, Menard fractured his neck, which halted his photographic habit until recently. He is finally starting to feel well enough to lug his heavy camera gear around.

In Florida he spent most of his time at wildlife refuges, on Sanibel Island and in the Everglades. He saw snakes, turtles, alligators, and birds of every feather, capturing most of them on film — not digital. He shot rolls and rolls of slides, which are now meticulously organized in special clear pages. His favorites are of the cottonmouth (water moccasin) and wood stork, since he felt those were the hardest to get.

His encounter with the cottonmouth happened while he was on the road and noticed a raven in a peculiar pose — neck outstretched and staring intently at something. He pulled over and found that the “something” was a venomous snake. He got his shots, but wanted to see more of the snake, so after some careful prodding he managed to make it move — and lived to tell about it.

Dangerous animals were part of the Florida allure. Despite warning signs about panthers, he had no panther encounter. He photographed the sign, though, as well as signs for the southernmost hotel, southernmost house, and southernmost point in the United States. He was also amused by the sign for “Rock Reef Pass, Elevation 3 feet.”

Menard’s wife, Barbara, opted out of the bird and wildlife trip but accompanied him to NASA’s Cape Canaveral, Daytona International Raceway and Epcot Center. Of the latter, Menard wrote in his journal, “Never again — much too expensive and too exhausting for a person my age. Everything was very much over-priced.”

Give him a wildlife refuge any day.

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