Sublette County has 23 on its license plate because when it originated in 1921, it was the poorest county (of all 23 Wyoming counties) by assessed property value in Wyoming.
But among the pages of a new book titled "23: The Place We Call Home," by David J. Bell, you'll see images of arguably one of the most opulent counties in America, at least from a photographer's perspective.
Bell is an old-school shooter, meaning he came up before the advancements of digital photography changed how images are captured. He learned to shoot by f-stop and light meter, and how to process film in a dark room. Over the years he has embraced the latest in mirrorless camera and lens technology.
But it still takes a trained eye, an understanding of the importance of contrast, and the ability to anticipate how light falls on objects to make great images.
This book proves that Bell knows how to make great images.
"The equipment available today has certainly added to everyone's ability to get a good shot," Bell told Cowboy State Daily. "But there are still things good photographers know and feel that others will never get."
About The Book
This book contains 200 photographs featuring everything from alpine meadows dotted with wildflowers to a cowboy feeding stock with a team of draft horses.
It’s got the northern lights over Pinedale, an amorous three-point mule deer buck curling his snout while watching over his group of does and much more.
Bell says the Wyoming Range, which frames Sublette County's western border is the state's best-kept secret and one of his go-to places to prospect for landscapes.
The book cover, one of is favorites, was taken at 11,000-feet in a glacial valley on the shoulder of Glover Peak. The photograph contains lupine, larkspur, yarrow, buttercup and other wildflowers set among granite peaks and boulders.
A winter landscape taken from Elkhart Park in the Wind River Range captures the Milky Way over Fremont Peak on a crisp moonlit night.
Bell said it was "colder than the devil," that night when he set out on his e-bike to make the ride in. He waited for a cold, clear night because he needed the cross country ski trail firm enough to support the battery-powered mountain bike.
"I froze my ass off but this is what I got," he said. "I think it turned out pretty cool. There were some shadows but it didn't overpower the Milky Way."
On page 36 is another of Bell's favorite photos. It's a fall sunrise in the Wyoming Range with Cottonwood Creek, Triple Peak and Lander Peak in the background. Vince Lombardi said "perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence."
This image is a catch in anybody's book.
"I couldn't believe what I was seeing as this sunrise unfolded before my eyes," Bell said.
This book doesn't have a central theme, other than all of the photographs were shot by Bell in Sublette County. There are no chapters and no table of contents. It's just a random collection of photographs.
The pictures were taken during every season and although Bell counts himself mainly as a landscape photographer there are numerous wildlife photos, a photo of his son riding a snowmobile in the powder, several night scenes, lightning, fireworks, the moon and an old International tractor being overtaken by pasture grass and cattails.
Bell said he intended to organize the images but when he started making a list of subjects that chapters could be built from, it got too confusing.
"I couldn't figure out how to make it make sense by geography or subject," he said. "This book is 100 percent random, and I hope people enjoy its randomness."
About The Author
Bell grew up in Rapid City, South Dakota and graduated from the University of South Dakota with a degree in journalism. He spent the early years of his career managing chambers of commerce in a few different cities and later landed in Denver, Colorado.
He did some photography during the years with the chambers of commerce. As a youth he used to steal his mother's old Kodak Brownie camera, shoot through what film she had and then not tell her it was used up.
But he and his wife didn't want to raise their children in Denver. They had spent time in the Pinedale area backpacking and made friends here. So, in 1993, he made a career change, took a job with an insurance company and moved to Pinedale.
After moving to Pinedale, he started shooting photos for Dawn Ballou, the owner of the website Pinedale Online. It's been a great relationship ever since, Bell said.
"She gave me a spot on the main page of the website and I've kept working to keep it fresh ever since," he said. "They started hosting my website and still do to this day."
Bell is working with a photographer from Cody, Tim O'Leary, on a book project of photographs of Yellowstone National Park. He said O'Leary is an excellent wildlife photographer and Bell will shoot the landscapes.
Bell has three books in print. To see his work, visit his website or Wyoming Mountain Photography on Facebook.
John Thompson can be reached at John@CowboyStateDaily.com