Looking Through The Lens

The magazine you're holding rates as one of my favorites, and I can't resist turning its pages to look at the photographs before I read it.

My family and I have subscribed to the Missouri Conservationist for more than 20 years. Whether popped through a mail slot on Primrose Lane in England or stuffed into a rural mailbox on a Virginia hilltop, the Conservationist always brought us back to Missouri with its photographs and features.

Now that we've settled in the Missouri Ozarks, we especially look forward to seeing the photographs each month. These photos range from those that take the reader up-close and personal to the faces of birds, insects and other wildlife, to the breathtaking scenics that merit a whispered, "Wow!"

I was surprised to find out that only two photographers produce most of the photographs in the Conservationist. Not only do these two photographers shoot film for the magazine, but they are also responsible for taking the photos seen in other Department of Conservation publications.

Jim Rathert is one of these photographers and has worked at the Conservation Department for 27 years. Born and raised in Columbia, Rathert likely was influenced to become a photographer as he watched his dad work as a photographer for the University of Missouri-Columbia. He attended the same university, majoring in art education with a special interest in the natural sciences.

While attending MU in 1968, Rathert purchased his first camera from a fellow student, journalism major Jim Domke. After he graduated, Rathert worked in wildlife research at the Missouri Department of Conservation in Jefferson City. He spent 11 years setting up and photographing wildlife research projects. He described the job as "photography inter-meshed with the research projects."

In 1981, Rathert left the Department to sell insurance in Illinois, but he missed working outdoors with his camera. After two years, he and his family moved back to Jefferson City where he applied for a job, any job, in the Department that would fit his talents. In 1984, Rathert was hired as a full-time photographer, a job he calls "an absolutely comfortable fit."

Rathert says his background in natural science contributes to his success as a photographer. For example, when he was assigned to photograph dragonflies for a Conservationist cover, his knowledge of the dragonfly's behavior helped him obtain the necessary images.

"Dragonflies have hunting perches," Rathert said. "If you see them working in an area, they'll probably light on the same