He has built 20 subdivisions and 2,000 custom homes in St. Louis, shopping centers in St. Charles and 35 ski condominiums in Breckenridge, Colo. He’s bicycled and hitchhiked throughout Europe and Africa. He has sculpted 10- to 15-foot-high metal works of art, as well as hand-carved 30 pieces of furniture for his first home. He’s also a gourmet cook, painter and avid fisherman. But this is not what drives Dick Manlin. It is his love of photography that he thrives on today.
“Outdoor photography is my passion," says the blue-eyed, white-haired, father of three and grandfather of four. “I enjoy nature’s beauty observed through the lens of my camera." Rain or shine, you might find Manlin in Grey Summit shooting a photograph of wildflowers at the Missouri Botanical Garden in mid-morning, catching the opening of the giant Victoria water lilies, or capturing the birth of a monkey at the Saint Louis Zoo.
No matter his subject, Manlin puts his heart and soul into each photograph he shoots. He believes the two most important things in photography are patience and knowledge of your camera. “In Africa, you may spend days waiting for something to happen. Because of the heat, many animals sleep all day long,” he explains. "However, the action is very fast when it does happen. You must know the mechanics of your camera like the back of your hand.”
Adventurous and a cowboy at heart, it is not uncommon to find Manlin wearing his signature boots and hat while trekking through the woods each spring on his morel mushroom hunts. He believes that “a moment of nature is only a moment in your mind. But a photograph of that moment is forever.”
Now in his 70s, Manlin reminisces about his signature photo of a bull elephant taken at a reserve in Kenya. “I had been photographing all day, and the sun was setting. There were only five minutes of light left to photograph, when we came upon a beautiful lone bull elephant. When we stopped our vehicle, he turned to approach us,” he recalls. “Everything was right except the big bull was blocking the sunset, which made him just a black outline. I asked the driver to pull forward. The bull and I stared at each other for about 60 seconds. I was continuously shooting away and changing my camera settings for the rapidly changing light. The photo I printed was the last one I took before the sun disappeared and is now one of my most popular photographs.”
Photographing grizzly bears during the spring salmon run in Alaska posed more adventure and a touch of trepidation for Manlin. He and a friend lived with the bears on Brooks Falls Island for almost a week, running into them all day long. Advised when encountering a bear “to stop walking, turn, don’t run and never look the bear in the eye,” he tells of the mean-looking grizzly coming along the game trail toward him and his traveling companion. "I immediately stopped and whispered to my friend that we had a bear coming towards us and that we should back up. After a moment of silence, she replied, We can’t back up because there is another bear right behind us.” The duo left the trail and the two bears casually passed by. “They were so close that I could smell them and feel the heat coming off their bodies. They must not have been hungry, or more interested in dining on the salmon than on us. For that, I am grateful.”
Manlin’s photographic escapades also have taken him to Haines, Alaska, home of the largest concentration of bald eagles in the world. The magnificent birds of prey migrate to Haines each November to feed on salmon. “As many as 5,000 eagles may come to a three mile stretch along the Chilkat River Valley each year,” he notes. That is where he photographed Eagles in the Snow, his award-winning image that was published in Alaskan Airways magazine. His photos also have appeared in National Geographic, Outdoor Life and other publications, as well as displayed at the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame & Museum of the American Cowboy in Boulder.
When not out in the wild, Manlin has worked as a photographer for the Saint Louis Zoo, St. Louis Rams and the Missouri Botanical Garden, among others. He has served as an instructor at both Webster University and University of Missouri-St, Louis, helping students learn how to photoshop. "Photoshop takes it from a photograph to a piece of art,” he says. “In years to come, I feel all photography will be photo-shopped or manipulated to become pieces of art.” He also has begun selling framed, limited editions of his photography to Bed Bath & Beyond.
Manlin makes his home in Des Peres, where he enjoys gourmet cooking, painting, photo-shopping and printing his works of art. The Clayton High graduate attended the University of Missouri and Washington University. However, he adds, "I was rebellious and didn't take studying seriously. I left college without graduating and then began my travels throughout the world.”
Whether wading in a stream in hip boots, watching the cooking channel, repairing a dishwasher or photographing roundups in Colorado, Dick Manlin always has a great story to tell. The raconteur captivates his audience with tales of his journeys; and through his photographs, he keeps those incredible moments alive forever.