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Photo prima donna
By Janet Seitz Carlson

Springfield native Donna Lounsberry estimates she has taken a quarter million images of area performances over the past five years. But she says she doesn't take the pictures. God does.

"It's my passion and God's gift to me. This is a ministry for me," Lounsberry says. "I don't know how I do it. I'm not in awe of my work. The camera has a life of its own. God takes those pictures through my hands."

The former nurse and state Public Health long-term care trainer retired in 2002. While employed, Lounsberry made a lot of slide presentations and was drawn to graphics and pictures but had never used a camera. "I never once thought when I retired 'I'm going to get a camera and take pictures.'"

Yet, when she volunteered for a church production, one task resulted in taking pictures with her small camera. There she met Phil Funkenbusch, local theater guru and current director of theatres for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

"I was blown away with what she did," Funkenbusch says. He invited her to the Muni's "Big River" in 2004. "She started by watching the rehearsals. That's the key - to watch. She takes hundreds of photos. I have no idea how she does it. She always captures the essence of a scene. It's a gift and it's an art."

"Before I knew it, I needed a camera that didn't flash," recalls Lounsberry. Her children gave her a Nikon SLR. She joined Muni's communications committee and was soon taking pictures for Muni's productions and Web site. Her work quickly evolved to photographing performances for groups including Springfield Theatre Centre, Springfield Ballet Company, Gordon Productions, Theater in the Park and more.

She recently completed visually documenting the ALPLM's July production of "The Civil War," directed by Funkenbusch, and will do the same for Over the Moon Production's "Camelot" fundraiser for the Hoogland Center for the Arts.

"Wherever there's a show, I'm there if I can do it," Lounsberry reports. "I watch rehearsals, so I've got it in my mind where the reaction is. My biggest joy is capturing that wonderful moment you just can't see from the back row. You don't know how much that means to do this. Actors can't see the show, so you bring the show to them. The expressions, the characterizations that carry the moment and tell the story - that brings joy. I love to catch those precious moments. It's not a job. It's a joy."

It must be a joy considering Lounsberry's work is largely volunteer. She estimates that she spends 75 percent to 80 percent of her time on this calling. "I don't make a living at it, but I love living it."

Lounsberry has a small business called Five by Seven, which she says is named for photography references and also based on Scripture. She is an exhibiting artist at the Blue Door, where her work incorporates her photography into notecards, handbags, watches, cutting boards and other items.

Although she has no formal photography training, Lounsberry is grateful for the talented photographers and others who have shared time and knowledge with her. David Albers, Pat Russell, and Deb Avery are among those and others she credits that "God sent to me."

Lounsberry gives back plenty. She typically provides 400-500 images on DVD of each production. She prepares keepsake memory cards for each cast and crew member. "This theater and ballet community is full of loving, wonderful people. They embrace you. They make you feel welcome."

They welcome her too. "I'm fortunate to have Donna work on each show I've produced here," says Funkenbusch. "She has such empathy for people. Maybe that's part of it. She's a fun person to have around. The actors love her. She loves the shows. She's a great encourager, and she does some amazing art that's become quite a passion for her."

Story published Tuesday, October 28, 2008 ( Volume 3, Number 5 )

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