As friends of Paul Schiller dined in the Al Neuharth Media Center Thursday night, a variety of photos, each depicting a breathtaking landscape, flashed on the large screen in the meeting room.
The photos would turn from deep gold, to sharp blue, and then to a rich green. The subjects varied from ripe wheat fields, to a freshly mown acreage of alfalfa, dotted with large, round bales of hay, to the South Dakota badlands at dusk.
The images included the bold scene of a buffalo herd running wild across the prairie at Custer State Park, and a delicate blossom of the pasque, South Dakota's flower.
Schiller and his camera captured these images, and Thursday, both the photographer and his subject — the beautiful state of South Dakota — were celebrated.
Thursday night marked the official opening of Schiller's "State of Wonder" photography exhibition, which now has a permanent home as it graces the halls of the second floor of the Al Neuharth Media Center on the USD campus.
Schiller, best known as a founding partner of Lawrence & Schiller, a Sioux Falls marketing firm he launched in 1976 with fellow USD alumnus Craig Lawrence, contributed 42 pieces of his extensive photography collection for "State of Wonder."
The artwork was installed at the end of August, just in time for the start of USD's fall semester.
"I don't think Paul Schiller has ever gotten the recognition that he deserves," said Jack Marsh, executive director of the Freedom Forum's Al Neuharth Media Center, a program held that evening. "We do that by celebrating the opening of this exhibit, but we're really celebrating and saluting Paul for that and much, much more."
Using panoramic, wide-angle, telephoto and macro photography to re-imagine scenes that often are overlooked by South Dakotans and visitors alike, "State of Wonder" captures the beauty and uniqueness of South Dakota from border to border.
Schiller's exhibit is all about South Dakota, whether it's aerial photographs of landmarks such as Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial or images that offer a new perspective to the state's scenery, such as its plains, rolling terrain, rivers, Badlands, the Black Hills, vast sky and dramatic weather.
"It tells a story," said Schiller, who became interested in photography as a USD student when he was photo editor of The Volante. The exhibit "dispels the myth that South Dakota is dull, flat and boring."
Schiller said Marsh proposed the exhibit to him. After discussing potential costs and settling on a timeframe, Schiller selected the images and made the prints. He can't decide which of the 42 photographs is his favorite, adding, "it depends on the day." The project is funded with donations from several South Dakota businesses and individuals, many of who were in attendance at Thursday's festivities.
"Paul has looked at life through the lens (of a camera) for a very long time," said Craig Lawrence, co-founder of Lawrence & Schiller of Sioux Falls. Lawrence first met Schiller 42 years ago in the office of The Volante on the USD campus. Schiller was the newspaper's photographer; Lawrence worked as a Volante reporter. Thirty-four years ago, the two men teamed up to form Lawrence and Schiller, which today is one of the region's leading marketing firms, providing businesses and institutions with expertise in traditional print, radio and television advertising, and social media, web strategy and mobile marketing.
"When we began at The Volante, we set out to capture an event or a moment in words and photos, and in it's simplest form, that's what we've been doing together ever since," Lawrence said. "I've reflected on the ease of this relationship between us, and I count as a blessing that such a deep one has been hammered out over the passing decades."
Schiller's father introduced him to photography. "I had the honor to be taught a little about photography from him," he said. "He could squeeze more images out of a roll of 36-exposure film than I've ever seen in my life. He loved that camera; he loved the pictures that he took that were mostly of family and landscapes, and I got hooked.
"He challenged me, and he taught me, and then he let me go," Schiller said. "Then it was up to me, but that's where it all started. He's just such a remarkable human being, and you can't help be taught in the right way by a man like that."
He is humbled to have his photos on permanent display at USD. "To be honored by your alma mater for work that has been a life-long passion is just incredibly humbling and an absolute thrill.
"To be able to see and hear all of you as we installed the show – as all of the people began to see these images – it's a remarkable experience to see how you react, and how people react to different images. That's what makes it so intriguing and exciting," Schiller said.
The photo exhibit has served as the genesis, he added, of a book that will be forthcoming sometime in the next 24 months.
"It will be written by Craig Lawrence, with photographs by me, about South Dakota, and it will be named "State of Wonder." It's going to be an absolute thrill to work with him on this project," he said.
After the book is published, an hour-long television documentary with the same name will be produced and aired on South Dakota Public Broadcasting.
"The book will be used as a premium to help fundraise for public broadcasting," Schiller said. Professor Stephen Yarbrough of the USD Music Department will compose original music for the documentary.
Schiller and his wife, Connie, are also keeping busy with their new venture, Acts of Nature.
"This is probably one of the more rewarding things that I've experienced in my lifetime," he said. "It came totally as a surprise. We're starting to work with corporate clients, healthcare clients, individuals, and truly seeing how art can have impact in homes, and more so in businesses and in healthcare.
"It is driving us to give new life in areas, especially in hospitals and clinics, where they need a positive experience," Schiller said. "I'm thrilled to be a part of that – to be able to help people through hard times with positive impressions."
"State of Wonder" is on exhibit 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, on the second floor of the Al Neuharth Media Center, 555 Dakota St., Vermillion.