Keeping it Local with a Paleontologist in Louisville

Way back in September we had our first local shoot. Let’s start off by saying how GREAT it is to not have to pack our bags and gear for a flight! What luxury! As some of you may know Lexi and I are located in Southwest Ohio, a real paleontological hot bed, we know. But, it turns out, that there are some folks that do paleo research throughout the Ohio Valley. One of those people is Dr. Kate Bulinski at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky.

We met up with Dr. Bulinski on her campus and set up for her interview in a beautiful, quiet corner near the chapel (Bellarmine is a Catholic University). So you can have a little insight into the kind of person Dr. Bulinski is, she surprised us during her interview with a story about a black widow spider she encountered while in the field. Instead of running from the spider or removing her person to a different location where the deadly spider was not, she grabbed a stick to poke it and get a better view of it up close—curious scientist, I would say so. More importantly, during the interview she talked about how her position at Bellarmine is perfect for her because of its close proximity to areas she’s really interested in studying, the banks of the Ohio River. For someone to successfully study the fossils there, they need to be located nearby since the fossils are under water the majority of the year. Expensive field excursions need not apply for Dr. Bulinski, she has everything she needs in her back yard.

Falls of the Ohio State Park with Louisville, Kentucky beyond the bridge. Image © 2015 Kelsey Vance.

This was a new kind of shoot for us since it was the first time we would be going into the field with someone’s entire class. We followed Dr. Bulinski to the Falls of Ohio State Park (don’t be fooled by the name, it’s just a dam) on the Indiana side of the Ohio River. The location was similar to Lyme Regis with large areas of fossil beds; in laymen’s terms, large slabs of flat rock that are completely covered with fossils. It’s incredible, there are so many fossils! We filmed Dr. Bulinski working with her students and the park educator that accompanied the class to the site for further background on the site. The students were given buckets, scrub brushes and PVC squares to isolate an area to investigate. They did look like they were there to clean up the place, but the simple household tools proved to be very effective; with a splash of water and a few quick scrubs, the fossils in the rock were fully exposed and ready for proper inspection and classification.

Dr. Bulinski’s students cleaning up the park. Just kidding, water and a little scrubbing makes it much easier to see the fossils. Image © 2015 Kelsey Vance.
Fossils, fossils everywhere! Image © 2015 Kelsey Vance.
Dr. Bulinski showing her students how to identify the fossils. Image © 2015 Kelsey Vance.

Once the students were settled into their groups and familiarized with their task, we stole Dr. Bulinski from them so we could get some facial hair on her and make a portrait. We were very lucky with the weather that day, no rain and bright sun, but without shade and it being early afternoon, it was not the ideal time of light for making a portrait. We were fortunate enough to have a sky dotted with large fluffy white clouds and a subject that was patient enough to wait for those clouds to cover the sun for a little light diffusion. During longer breaks of sunshine, Dr. Bulinski caught up with her students, beard and all, to make sure they were on the right track. I’m always excited about the portraits I make on our shoots, but I’m particularly excited for Dr. Bulinski’s. It’s the first we have with students in the background and the first to have a mid-western skyline. Not all paleontology is in remote, exotic locations!

Looking towards the west at the Fall of the Ohio. It’s a beautiful park, if you’re in the area you should visit. Image © 2015 Kelsey Vance.

On a slightly different note, this was our first shoot with Director of Photography Megan Cafferty. Megan lives in Cincinnati and has worked on several commercial shoots with Lexi. She fit right into our little crew and is one hard working gal. The day after this shoot, Lexi and Megan flew out to Wyoming to meet up with Ellen for her big interview and to check out her new lab at the University of Wyoming. Lexi will fill you in on the details of that trip in the near future.