October 14, 2010 | 01:02 AM
Photographer Tom Gill freely admits there was some confusion the first time he saw the roadway sign for the Illinois & Michigan Canal.
"I remember driving past it and seeing the sign and wondering 'What is this IM Canal?'" Gill said. "I had no idea the history behind the canal."
Hundreds of trips to the canal and thousands of photographs later, Gill thinks he has a pretty good grasp on the historic waterway that allowed boat transportation from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River.
Gill, 43, will display approximately two dozen images of the canal at his photo exhibit Oct. 17 through Nov. 18 at the North Central College's Oesterle Library Gallery, 320 E. School St.
It will be the first solo photo exhibit for Gill, who has been snapping photos since he was 8 years old. All of the images to be displayed were taken within the last three years as Gill explored the canal, locks, surrounding parks and the buildings that line I&M Canal National Heritage Corridor. His primary interests include the remains of the limestone locks and the ruins of industry that once thrived along the historic canal.
"It's really exciting," Gill said of having his own photo exhibit. "I've been published in magazines before and that was a great thrill, but I'm really looking forward to having my own exhibit."
Gill has been part of two group photo galleries including one this past February at the W.F. Wellman Exhibit Hall in Hammond, Ind. That gallery, which featured photos of more than 150 sanctuaries in northern Indiana, was both exciting and nerve-wracking for Gill.
His photo prints for that exhibit were lost in the mail and he didn't receive the reprints from the New York-based printer until two days before the gallery opened.
"It was a bit of challenge because I had to frame 20-something prints in one night," said Gill, who is now able to laugh about the incident. "This exhibit [at North Central College] should go much better. I already have my prints framed."
Gill, who works as the instructional media coordinator at the college, said he snaps about 18,000 pictures a year. He enjoys photographing other natural and historic subjects including the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Lake Michigan, lighthouses and canyons.
"I'm usually at Indiana Dunes 48 weekends out of the year," Gill said. "I love it, especially during the winter when you have 15 foot tall mounds of ice. It's really an amazing scene in the winter."
Gill's exhibit is free and open to the public. Exhibit hours are from 8 a.m.-midnight Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. on Friday. Weekend hours are noon-midnight.
Gill will greet visitors during an opening reception from 5-7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 19. For more information, contact North Central's gallery director at (630) 637-5375.
Many of Gill's photographs can be viewed on his blog at http://lapstrake.blogspot.com.