Looking back through photographs I took in Minneapolis I often come to the images I took at the site of the Fruen Mill near Theodore Worth Park on a chilly winter night. The sheer mass of these structures are a testament to a once booming time in this now residential neighborhood. The buildings have a beauty of their own as they sit and decay season after season.
The remains of a once booming mill sit vacant and rotting in the middle of the Bryn Mawr neighborhood of Minneapolis. These buildings have remained unused for over 40 years and show their wear along with plenty of street art. Most of the structures were built after 1920, but the lot has been used for milling since 1894. The lot is next to Basset Creek and adjacent to the enormous Theodore Worth Park. Empty and dilapidated buildings sit towering over the residential neighborhood boasting fantastic views of downtown. The views from the top of this structure are in part the reason that it still stands. Redevelopment has been discussed several times, yet always fallen through.
One magical thing in doing long exposures at night near bodies of water is the reflections created in the often still liquid. Working in the Twin Cities water is always nearby; whether it is rivers, lakes, streams, or puddles. Looking back through the work I have created over the past years I find many images of reflections. These reflections combined with the lights of the city or of the moon give the world a surreal look of unimaginable beauty that one is unable to see with their eyes, yet is able to be captured through a camera. Here are a few of my favorites.
The clarity of the reflection of the boats on Lake Harriet simply amaze me every time I look at this image.
The stillness of the water and the fact that the bird did not move during this exposure are astonishing. Add to that the reflections of the colorful city lights in the water with the neon colors of the tree and it is a magical scene.
Though some dislike the symmetry of this image I absolutely love everything about it. The lights reflecting on the waters of the Mississippi River appear as a highway across the river beneath the Hennepin Ave. bridge that crosses from downtown to northeast.
I recently put together a piece about my inspirations as an artist. I looked at the work I most enjoy creating, night photography. Looking back at when my work during the twilight hours all began I thought about the artists who most inspired me and pushed me to create better work. I came up with three artists:
The first two both have an exceptional body of work in the world after sundown. Brassai was a early to mid 20th century photography who mostly worked in Paris. Chris Faust is a Minnesota native who still uses film to capture the magical movement of light across the landscape. Both inspired me in different ways and made me look at things from unique perspectives. Alec Soth is another Minnesota artist who has inspired me to think deeper about the places I photograph from reading his blogs and interviews.
Please take the time to check out the post and my thoughts as well as images from me and the artists I discuss here:
Photography in itself is magic. You capture a space and time as it once existed, and will never exist exactly the same again. Recently I was reading an essay from Minnesota photographer Alec Soth. Soth discusses how photography is a hoarder’s way to the world.
“I think photography is the most anti-Zen activity. It’s all about stopping time, possessing things, holding onto them. And you know, if my goal was to be a healthy person, photography would not be the thing. I have this joke about becoming a binoculographer: you go around and look at the world without photographing. That would be a spiritually healthy way of taking things in. But this wanting to possess it is not so healthy.”
This is true of most art, but especially photography. The artist is collecting as many images of the world as they can, trying to hang on to the place and moment that was in their sight. This recreates what all humans do in collecting memories, only it serves to visually reproduce the past.”
The way I most enjoying capturing the world to collect images is through night photography. These images represent a period of time in a specific place. The period of time can range anywhere from a few seconds to hours entirely depending on where you are and the amount of available light. In the past I have greatly enjoyed working in urban areas where there is ample light and my exposures range from 30 seconds to a minute. Recently, upon moving to Texas, I have found peace and solitude in working in rural areas where there is much less light for the camera to take in. This not only pushes my exposure times up, but also allows from movement in the stars and clouds above.
I originally drew inspiration from two artists when I began capturing night images while attending Anoka-Ramsey Community College in the Twin Cities. These two artists have very different bodies of work, but both work with film. Film has a certain magic that will never be met by digital. The fact they you are holding something tactile throughout the entire process and seeing the image appear in the liquid is an experience only somebody who has worked in a darkroom can understand.
The first artist of the two is Brassai. This artist photographed Paris in the night between the two World Wars. In his 1933 book Paris de Nuit (Paris by Night) he successfully captured the essence of Paris after dark. His images have a sense of feeling and emotion in them. Often they capture seedy locations in the veil of mist and fog using the ambient light to showcase particular parts of the image. As a student I took to the cities nearest me in search of something similar and began photographing the Minneapolis/St. Paul neighborhoods I knew and loved.
After several years of shooting night images a friend showed me work by a Minnesota photographer Chris Faust. Faust does a lot of night work in smaller towns that dot the landscape of Minnesota. He uses a panoramic medium format camera, which allows the capture of an intense amount of space and detail in each image. The photographs he creates give an incredible sense of the cold, quiet solitude of these off the beaten path locations throughout Minnesota. I felt fortunate being able to discuss process and technique with Faust through an exchange of e-mails a few years back. The communication taught me a great deal on exposure and alternative processing methods to create the desired contrast. These images have pushed me to recently get away from the cities and work in areas less traveled, which is a natural transition now that I live 45 minutes south of the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex in Waxahachie, TX.
As with any artist my inspirations are endless and would bore anybody to hear about them all, but this is a basic grasp at what pushes me to create and a quality I strive to rival.
The border of Minneapolis and St. Paul is the Mississippi River. The river creates a barrier and the bridges create the links between.
The bridges always amazed me. Not only do they span nearly a century of architecture, but each has a very unique aesthetic. There is the historic Stone Arch Bridge on which opened in 1883 to the new and modern Lowry Avenue Bridge that opened in 2012.
Living or working in the Twin Cities you cannot avoid crossing the Mississippi on a regular basis. Moving to Texas has been odd in that my commute only crosses the Trinity River on an old and very unappealing structure. While living in both Minneapolis and St. Paul I used to love escaping at night to photograph the wonderful lines, curves, textures, and lighting of these magnificent structures. Every image could tell a story; representing a time in history in which these cities expanded across the river.
Looking back through my work over the past years I have amassed a small collection of a few of these bridges. My hopes is that if I return to the Twin Cities in the future I can put together a body of work representing each bridge that connects the east and west banks of the Mississippi River.
Way back in the days when the grass was still green
And the pond was still wet
And the clouds were still clean,
And the song of the Swomee-Swans rang out in space…
One morning I came to the glorious place.
And I first saw the trees!
The Truffula Trees!
The bright colored tufts of the Truffula Trees!
Mile after mile in the fresh morning breeze.
I recently mailed a copy of The Lorax by Dr. Seuss to my niece in Colorado. Before mailing it I of course took the time to re-read the book myself.
The concept of the book is that change begins with one person and from that the possibilities are endless. In Minneapolis one such man would be the former parks board president and commissioner Charles Loring. Loring helped to make Minneapolis to be known not only as the City of Lakes, but also the City of Parks.
This excerpt made me think of a morning in Minneapolis that I went to the Lyndale Peace Gardens. It was fall, the air was moist, and the trees were like swaying rainbows in the breeze as the birds sang in the morning air. Not to mention the bright colors of the trees was not unlike that of the Truffala Trees.
I was alone in this area of natural wonder. For anybody who has never spent time in Minneapolis the city and its residents have a high regard for their parks and the ability to escape into pristine areas of wilderness without ever escaping the city limits. The Lyndale Peace Garden, which is right along the chain of lakes, is one of these exceptional parks.
The Peace Garden was originally called The Rock Garden because of natural ancient rocks. The rocks were perfect housing for alpine plants and dwarf conifers; giving it the feel of a Japanese garden much like that of Como Zoo. It has a small zig-zag bridge over a rock bed that at times is filled with water. The zig-zag design is in Japanese tradition as it is said that evil spirits can only walk in a straight line, thus preventing the spirits from following those who enter the garden.
As you cross the bridge to the sight of a beautiful, low growing conifer greets you. The trail winds around these trees near a small waterfall along with more exceptional landscaping.
One thing that I miss dearly living in Texas is the ease of escape to nature I was able to enjoy in Minneapolis. Within a mere few miles of my apartment was five natural lakes (nearly every lake in Texas is man-made). I could hop on my bicycle at the front step of my apartment and within 20-30 minutes be across town sitting on the edge of Lake Harriet next to the beautiful architecture of its bandshell taking photographs of the reflections in the clean water, the boats moored in the starlight, and more.
Ever since I was a child heading up north meant getting away, vacation, reprieve from everyday life. Sitting here on this chilly grey day in Texas brings my mind to the wonder and beauty of the north woods during the spring with it’s cool mornings and evenings and warm, sunny afternoons.
Each and every trip meant escape to the beauteous peace and serenity of the woodlands and lakes that Minnesotans are fortunate enough to call their own. These trips could be with my parents and sister, my grandfather and cousins, boy scouts, or as I grew older with friends or alone but they always held such meaning; a renewed outlook on life and the world.
Any outdoor enthusiast knows the wonder of lying down in your sleeping bag gazing through the porthole screen window at a lakeshore sunset or the blanket of stars in the unpolluted skies of the north. It’s in these moments that you can find peace and solitude as your mind begins to slow down and turn itself off allowing you to live in the moment or simply forget the stress of daily life and allow introspective thoughts of yourself and the world.
With the backpacking trips there I always find amazement in the fact that every necessity is carried in one pack light enough to be carried on your back.
It only takes that 30 pounds of gear to live.
Within this 30 pounds you have shelter, clothing, food, a book possibly, some writing materials, for me it always contains a camera, and a few other odds and ends. Enough to survive, yet it all can be carried on your back.
The slow pace of hiking allows you to take in the details of the world around you. Things you simply would not notice in the hustle and bustle of daily life take on great importance. The morning dew on the pine needles, a loon calling to you from across the lake as you sit next to the campfire, the splash of the beaver’s tail on the water as you drift off to sleep. Every bend in the trail presents a place that looks too splendid to not stop and take a break, yet you have to pass some to make camp before the sun falls behind the trees and the trail disappears into the thick and noisy darkness.
As you stop to make camp you unpack the gear that you so carefully fit into your pack. One person takes the time to set up tents while the other cooks a dinner that only takes one pot. We often decide to reduce dishes to simply eat right out of the pan and sit next to a lake or creek and replenish our energy with a dinner of mashed potatoes and pasta mixed into a trail version of hotdish, or casserole to any non-Minnesotan.
Then there is the magic of the campfire. Within those flames are many a story of wonder and enchantment. Somehow any conversation just seems more interesting as you watch the crackling flame and glow bugs while listening to the noisy silence of the woods.
The morning is almost a ritual for any backpacker. Being awoken by the heat of the rising sun as it fills your tent. You rise from the sleeping bag slowly and put on camp shoes to stretch as you take in the beauty once again renewed from a nights rest in the cool fresh air of the northwoods. You then find solitude and sit on a bench or log and watch the sun finish rising from the East; taking your time to wake up as your mind relaxes. There is simply no rush to get ready as you knowing you have the entire day to make the next campsite.
All of this magic lies just a few hours north of home. Part of its beauty is that it holds a different meaning for each individual who enters the woods. Moments of bliss and reflection await a personal experience that is hidden in the trees that surround.
About the photographs:
The Twin Lakes Loop located near Beaver Bay and Silver Bay is a wonderfully scenic section of the Superior Hiking Trail that every backpacker should experience. It’s difficulty level is one that any enthusiast can enjoy. Though having a few challenging ups and downs there are plenty of places to rest and enjoy the scenery to catch your breath and hike the next section. The campsite on the shore of Bear Lake is one that will exceed the expectations of even the most seasoned and traveled hiker.