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‘You make me want to live in Lansing’ – Celebrating the deeper meaning of weather photos

Weather gallery now open at Lansing Library

Above: Dozens gathered at the Lansing Public Library for The Lansing Journal’s Weather Gallery Open House. (Photo: Ashlee De Wit)

LANSING, Ill. (March 13, 2024) – Usually relegated to small talk, weather took on a big meaning at the Lansing Journal’s Weather Gallery event at the Lansing Public Library on Monday night.

Local weather is the theme of a display celebrating the beautiful and the memorable from daily life in Lansing. The exhibition, titled “Lansing through the Seasons,” provides an opportunity to see the work of local weather photographers in enlarged print formats. The gallery wall features 24 photographs — two from each month of the year — from local residents, all submitted to the Journal in the last two years for the daily forecast feature.

The photos chosen are not necessarily the 24 “best” photographs, said Journal Publisher Melanie Jongsma, but they are a sampling of the different subject matter, seasons, and styles that are submitted.

They show Lansing in snow and sunshine, on moonlit nights, and even covered in a blanket of wildfire smoke. Some photos have brightly colored leaves and flowers. Some show animals — a coyote, bee, and butterfly. One even includes a snowman complete with a bow tie and a name: Mr. Snowmageddon.

Published photographers were invited to attend the open house, as well as the public. (Photo: Ashlee De Wit)

“These photos, and the hundreds of others that have been submitted, are not just about flowers and sunsets. They’re not just about pretty scenery,” said Jongsma in her remarks for the evening reception.

“The photos are beautiful, yes. But I think the real beauty is the little bit of joy and pride that is behind the act of taking a photo and submitting it. What I mean is, each photo submission is like a little vote for Lansing. It’s someone saying, ‘I live here, and it’s beautiful or interesting or unique, and I want to share that with you.’ The Lansing Journal’s daily weather post gives them a platform for expressing some hometown pride.”

The people behind the weather photos

Wilma Straatman is a regular contributor to the Daily Weather Photo. She loves taking photos on her phone during her walks around town. Currently, she’s tracking the progress of a budding tree. She’s also recently captured geese flying overhead, and the first blooms of some spring flowers. She loves to capture images of clouds, too.

She has even inspired her grandchildren to submit a few photographs of their own, which were published in the Journal.

Straatman’s work is represented on the library wall with a 12×12 inch photo print of a close-up of a magnolia bloom from April 2023.

Clem Lessner has submitted just one photograph for daily weather — on a snowy March day in 2022, he was intrigued by the pattern that melting snow made on his patio. The snow disappeared from the pavers faster than from the gravel in between, leaving behind a geometric pattern. He captured the image and sent it in.

It now hangs at the top of the library wall display on a 16×20 canvas.

weather
From left: Barb and Clem Lessner speak with Lansing Journal Publisher Melanie Jongsma. (Photo: Ashlee De Wit)

Heather Grant’s photo, featuring the aforementioned “Mr. Snowmageddon” snowman, was the first submitted photograph used in the daily weather update — a fact she didn’t realize until the reception at the library.

“I think it’s so cool! It was just a fun picture; I had no idea [it was the first],” she said. “This whole wall [at the library] is so beautiful.”

More than 40 people have submitted photos for the weather feature; many of their names were published in a December 2023 article in the Journal. And while the daily post doesn’t get the most clicks on the website, Jongsma has found that in person, it’s one she hears the most comments on.

The history of weather photos

After learning that other newspapers had seen engagement from a weather feature, Jongsma and managing editor Josh Bootsma decided to experiment with a weather post of their own in January 2022.

It started as just a text post. Later, Bootsma and Jongsma began gathering their own local photographs for each type of weather. When Lansing was buried in snow during the big storm of February 2022, they published a photo that caught one reader’s attention. She recognized the snow-covered house in the image as the one where her husband grew up. This reader suggested that the Journal publish photographs of different locations in Lansing each day to go along with the weather forecast.

“That was really the spark that transformed the daily weather post into a community-building feature,” Jongsma said. “It became about showcasing Lansing.”

The Journal requested community contributions for the daily post, but things started slowly. Aside from Grant’s submission, the paper saw only a handful of others come in over the first few months. It wasn’t until the middle of 2023 that they could reliably count on reader-submitted photos to fill each weather posting. Now, it has been a couple months since Jongsma had to use a photo of her own for the daily feature.

Journal Publisher Melanie Jongsma shared the origin of publicly-sourced weather photos. (Photo: Ashlee De Wit)

“Somewhere along the way, people around town started telling me how much they looked forward to the weather photo every morning!” Jongsma said. “Weather photos became the number one category of news that people commented to me about. So this was all fun and amusing, but the whole weather photo phenomenon was still kind of a curiosity that Josh [Bootsma] and I laughed about.”

But one comment from a local business owner gave her a new perspective.

“One afternoon last year I was at S.L Wine Bar on Ridge Road,” Jongsma said. “Christopher and Deja Cain are the owners of that fine establishment, and they don’t live in Lansing. They live in Chicago, but they are invested in Lansing because they have a business here, and they read The Lansing Journal. So I was in there talking to them, and Deja happened to mention, ‘You know, I love that daily weather photo. It’s so nice.’ And she added, ‘You make me want to live in Lansing.’ I thought, ‘Wow. That’s what the weather photo is all about.’”

On display through May

The public was invited to gather Monday evening for the official introduction of the Lansing through the Seasons gallery wall. Dozens gathered to see and hear about the images on display.

“Lansing is a small, blue-collar town that built up around farmland and clay into a place of commerce and neighborhoods and entertainment options and civic organizations,” Jongsma said. “There is not much farmland anymore, but there are new kinds of beauty. And I love the variety of photos that our residents send in. They’ve captured parks and parking lots, insects and intersections, puddles and sunsets and patio gardens.

“Sometimes the subject matter is artistic in and of itself. Sometimes it’s the composition or perspective of the photographer that makes it a work of art. But they all say something about Lansing and the people who live here.

“There’s so much to be proud of here in our little town, and these photographs give us a way to celebrate that together,” Jongsma said.

Lansing through the Seasons will remain at the Lansing Public Library through May. Each photo includes the original caption, the name of the photographer, and the date it was published.

The photos can be purchased for $100 each. Four already sold on opening night of the exhibition. Two more sold the next day. In fact, one was purchased by a patron who will give it as a gift to the photographer who took the shot.

To reserve one of the remaining photos for purchase, email [email protected]. Proceeds cover the cost of creating the enlarged prints.

Weather photos will be on display through the end of May at the Lansing Library. (Photo: Ashlee De Wit)

Celebrate Lansing — submit a photo

To submit a photo for the daily weather post, email the image to [email protected], and include a description and location of the photo, name of the photographer, and the names of any people or animals in the photo. Photos must be taken in Lansing and be from the current month.

The Lansing Public Library is located at 2750 Indiana Avenue in Lansing. The Lansing Journal is online at thelansingjournal.com.

Ashlee De Wit
Ashlee De Wit
Ashlee De Wit is a freelance writer and a Lansing native. After starting her career covering high school sports in Iowa, she's excited to be back in her hometown, reporting the stories of her local community — such as the opening of Troost, the informal Lansing pickleball club, a TF South Homecoming game, and Common Ground, Lansing's experiment with healthy race relations.

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