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.
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.
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.
One of the beauties of being a delivery driver that covers a wide portion of Minnesota was the scenery. Getting routes that went through the middle of nowhere or off the beaten path was always a highlight. Though this route went through the populated areas of Chaska and Shakopee it also went through some uninhabited rural roads. Finding these quiet, peaceful places is something I miss from that job. Though many nights were stressful or frustrating a drive like this made all of that seem to fade as I could watch the sun slowly setting behind the trees while I took my break with my camera. It was always quite a perk to be able to poll over anywhere whenever you wanted and take a 15 or 30 minute break and often led to some beautiful images of places that everybody just speeds on past.
After moving to Texas I have been more drawn to trying to capture the magic of the sunset. The colors in the sky that are created during this time of the day are so vibrant and magnificent it is hard not to feel an appreciation for things beyond the control of man. I must admit I have not yet captured a Texas sunset I deem worthy of showing, but upon looking back on images I had taken I found this wondrous scene on the shore of Bear Lake on the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT). This section, the Twin Lakes Loop, is one of the most popular areas for many reasons. Foremost is it’s beauty, this section goes from rocky outcrops, through wooded marshes, scenic lakes, and more. It is also on the southernmost leg of the SHT; making it an easy weekend destination from the Twin Cities. Over the past several years I have found myself at this campsite countless times. This image is a perfect example of the serenity found at any given moment while sitting at this campsite. The subtle details in this image are overwhelming to anybody who has been to this location. The strips of birch bark along the shore are easily mistaken for litter, but are simply a sign of the beavers who have a den built at the southernmost tip of this lake on the stream that leads to Beaver Lake. Hidden in the water is the beaver swimming across the lake creating the ripples that are coming towards the shoreline from where the photograph is taken. The crystal clear water is all too inviting on the heated days of July and August after a sweaty hike through the ups and downs of the Sawtooth Mountains to get to this hidden oasis. This view accompanies every activity at the campsite from cooking breakfast over the propane stove, conversing over a campfire on a chilly eve in the north woods, lying in the afternoon sun to relax after a day hike, etc. Easily my favorite parts of the day while at this campsite are the sunrise and sunset. Even if you are not an early riser it is hard to not be awoken by the early morning sun heating up your tent on the shore. For these reasons and more this location is a place that in my heart has a feeling of home.
I received my monthly copy of National Geographic in the mail today and was surprised upon seeing an article by Minnesota native Garisson Keillor’s. The article is an absolute joy to read, especially when I can picture in my head nearly all of the locations Keillor recalls throughout the passage. The article is a visual journey through the Twin Cities as a lifelong story of one’s life in. It is interesting to take this perspective on anybody’s life. Imagining the times and places we recall as we travel through the places that have become our home. It is easy to picture your childhood on the street you grew up on, or your teenage romping grounds, as you drive along the same roads you have known your entire life. Through the progress it is a simple visualization to see these places as they were 10, 15, 20, or more years ago when they were a place well traveled day by day. I invite you to travel through this article.
I looked back at images that describe places in my life that I can view as they once were. I decided to include this one as I can remember being at the Minneapolis lakes from my earliest days up through my first year of marriage. I can see myself standing in my cowboy boots, barely as tall as my grandfathers waist, feeding the birds, or sitting at the Lake Harriet Bandshell listening to high school bands with my parents, sister, and dogs, as well as leisurely biking around the lakes along with my wife on a peaceful and warm Minnesota spring afternoon.