Thursday, February 15, 2018

Calling All Artists, 2018

Thought I'd lead with spring because I sure could use some. The shank of winter runs long on the prairie and it seems every day brings more dire news.

At least we know there's a cherry red Tesla ridden by a mannequin wearing a spaceman's outfit hurtling through space in our collective name while listening to David Bowie. And if you don't believe me...

So we can do that, but not keep our children safe in schools we send them to. Go figure.

I've written a great deal about my artistic residency in the Porcupine Mountains, courtesy of the Friends of the Porkies. Time's come to do that again, as your application for the Artists in Residence Program is due no later than March 30th, 2018.

I thought this year I'd show more than tell. Suits my mood. Maybe it will yours, too.

These images were all captured within the boundaries of the Park. The image immediately below was taken just a short walk from Dan's Cabin. To and fro, you'll pass it every day.

Tell me you don't want to be right there right then, right now…

The world needs creatives. We're obligated to help them thrive. The Friends of the Porkies' artist in residence program does exactly that. It's hosted a dizzying variety of artists across a wide array of creative disciplines.

I've included images here from three seasons in the Porkies. I've had enough of winter. Maybe you have too.

Take this little tour of the Porkies. Then take the chance and submit your best work to the Friends.

Go for it.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Old World Considerations

If we seem to be rummaging around my image closet looking for something, that's because we are. The images in this post are all from 4x5 transparency film exposed to natural light, speaking of old world.

At least now the subject matter draws us ever closer toward home...

Once upon  time, I frequented the heritage architecture theme park Old World Wisconsin.

Like most of the docents I've met at historic preservation sites everywhere, the folk then in charge of OWW were kind to me. Due to their generosity of spirit, under controlled circumstances I finally learned how to really wield the Linhof. That later served me exceptionally well when working wreckage in the uncontrollable wild.

For two years and a bit I danced in light mostly planned for in advance…

…and when not that, then at complete liberty to take a chance on the passing happy accident:

Being as it's a theme park, the work I did at OWW falls outside my portfolio's core purpose and is little seen.

Except there I'd the luxury of shooting everything and anything just the way I saw it, while remaining physically safe. At OWW I exposed large format film in crazy bad light and shot what the hell I pleased, regardless of technical or aesthetic odds. My time there allowed me to dare without consequence and that taught me sometimes we might succeed beyond all reason to expect, should we creatively dare.

I'd been working my way through the image library for a project and came to think about creative community. Upon revisiting the Old World Wisconsin work, I recalled that when the winds of political change came to OWW, they swept away my last best chance to thank the devoted, previous caretakers for helping enable me to be the large format shooter I later became.

Many, many things go into creative success. There's vision and drive and purpose. Certainly, pigheadedness. Talent's a factor. Thankfully, craft can be studied and learned. Critically, there's also opportunity. That never comes to many (most?) creatives. The absence of opportunity is a hard wall before which folk's notion of any brass ring fails.

I believe that above all, the generosity of spirit that's met me on the long way to here proved instrumental. Barring the kindness of devoted if woefully undervalued docents and myriad others -- most of whom never knew me from Adam but sensed we shared common cause -- I'd never have been who I am, nor done what I have.

Plainly, the only way for any culture to develop good will into an operative asset is to nurture, protect and value common cause, whether through art or in life. I creatively executed common cause with those bygone docents at Old World Wisconsin, only because they first cared to recognize it in me.

The carefully reconstructed and preserved narrative delivered on the fields of Old World Wisconsin explicitly belongs to successive waves of immigrants who once emigrated from mostly shithole countries to then mostly shithole true blue American Wisconsin. In common cause they took to the task of hacking national vision from wilderness, even if/when they didn't know it and/or that wasn't at all the intention.

Some might say this immigrant's tale together with these images of old world tools looking every bit still capable of sweeping all kinds of shit clean is just a happy accident.

But they'd be wrong.

Sunday, December 31, 2017


Nahma MI., 2007 from 4x5 transparency

Through the old sawmill town of Nahma Mi., Upper Peninsula timber once flowed like a mighty river into Lake Michigan, then was carried to Chicago and points beyond. The timber and the business made from it played out a long time ago. 

What remains of the prosperous but ultimately unsustainable glory days of Nahma is primarily its iconic sawdust burner. The image above is from inside that burner.

I'd been thinking of resistance, but the word for today is resilience.

One of the first things I fell in love with around the Superior Basin is how life grows where you wouldn't believe it could, yet there it is.

Pinguisibi River Ontario, 2012 4x5 transparency 

I've been capturing this sort of thing for decades but like the Swiss images, that work's remained largely unseen because it didn't fit into the greater scheme of the portfolio as it came to be.

Cascade River MN., 2012 120mm transparency

Life's pretty damned hard up 'round Superior. Still, in the most unlikely places under the harshest conditions, life finds a way.

Ontario Canada, 2012 120mm trnasparency

During the cold, dark days especially but also as a general rule, resilience counts more than resistance. It's what you need to stick around long enough to put down roots and grow, then thrive.

Presque Isle River MI., 2010 120mm transparency

Seasons change. Sometimes conditions for life aren't optimal and that's just the way it goes. I thought that after showing you so much wreckage of men's unsustainable hopes and dreams over the years, I should end this year on a note of natural resilience.

If you feel these times of ours are treacherous and uncertain, consider that trees can and do grow from rock.

Presque Isle River MI., 2010 120mm transparency

Or look again at that gleaming tuft of grass in the wreckage of the Nahma sawdust burner. From decades of worn out pulp lying fallow for decades more and with a periodic bit of sunshine, it not merely thrives but brings light to the otherwise permanent dark.

Resistance is a word more appropriate to the growing season. That'll be here soon enough.

For now, it's enough to be resilient. To hunker down and make plans, so that when the world turns again as it must, we'll be ready to flourish once again.

Keweenaw County MI, 2012 120mm transparency

In any event, the very best of this brave new year to us all.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Winter Solstice, 2017

It'll be tough to tell for a while, even for those paying attention. As everyone has their own burdens, most won't notice right way.

But the world has turned yet again. Be certain of it.

From here until the apex of summer, each successive day adds a precious second or two of daylight, until the shortest night is ushered in by riotous cicada song and everyone eats.

So we must now dig in against the brutal cold and face the bitter wind. The world has turned on its tilted (not to say crooked) axis. Better days are coming. The trick is to get there reasonably intact.

Where there's will there's a way, so they say.

I'd prepped a stunning image of an abandoned farmhouse about half buried in snow, surrounded by black skeletal trees under a cold blue sky. Then I found this and figured probably, most of us have seen about enough wreckage for one year.

The best of a dark season to us all.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

In the beginning...

Schloss Speitz

Film is dead. I saw it die.

Film died while I was on the road around the Superior Basin, sometime during 2011 to 2013. Death was long expected but in the end proved quick.

Grosse Muenster

When in 2011 I headed off for Superior with the last 300 sheets of large format, readyload chrome in the world I could get my hands on, film remained viable. Galleries in the region still sold fine art photographic prints at a good price. This one hangs framed on my wall today only because the gallery that once hung it is since closed:

Old Fort William, Ontario

More importantly, when I set off the audience at large still perceived film as the image. Collectively, we were exceptionally well conditioned to that by the modern world having for well over a century been defined and not infrequently even transformed, through imagery captured on film.

Film stock and me exhausted, in 2013 I staggered from the Basin.

By then, if regional galleries still showed photography at all, it was digital capture made by locals, the work relegated to low traffic space and priced accordingly. Typically far less than what just the master craftsman frame 'round those dead geese on my wall is worth.

Critically, we'd also collectively learned to see the digital image as our new common visual language. It's a truly vivid reflection, replicated in pixels and math then best translated backlit.


Because film is dead doesn't mean the postmortem work's done. The entire catalog of the 20th Century was captured on film. The bulk of my catalog is still film. Trolling through that on a dreary autumn day, it occurred to me that the work I did during just my 2nd large format shoot ever has never been publicly seen.

So we'll detour today to take care of that. Otherwise, shame on me.

Spietz Window

I captured these images on 4x5 chrome in Switzerland, not long after I first bought the Linhof. The trip was an unexpected opportunity. Back home, the work never did fit neatly into my working portfolio. But on balance, it's all of a piece.

For instance, those windows up there. I went on to do a whole bunch of Superior window work over the years. And the two walls below aren't so different from what I prize most about working Nonesuch, either.

Roman Jigsaw

Jorgensburg Wallflowers

Except of course they're original Roman, so way older than anything this Yankee's seen before or since.

Admittedly, the landscape work's more of a stretch. Still, at Schallenberg we ate trout fresh from a steam. The Bessemer Bluffs regularly mingle with clouds, too. Though on the Gogebic when that happens the day tends to be sodden chill and grey, not brilliant.

Schallenberg Pass

Then consider all the snow, notably common to both Alps and Porkies. The differences between there and here are perhaps primarily a matter of scale. I can't rightly say, as to me snow is traditionally more inconvenience or even present danger than opportunity.


Finally, there's probably the best 'grab shot' of my life.

I wasn't set up when I first saw the cat. I whispered to him while I unpacked and assembled my gear. The cat contentedly cleaned itself. One shot is what the beast gave me, then off it went.

It occurs to me Le Chat is a fine argument for light captured on large format film, then struck to fine paper and hung on a wall. It's an archaic argument I didn't come in here to make, after all film is dead. Call it a crime of opportunity, then.

Le Chat

Because maybe you don't easily see the cat on whatever device you're viewing this and maybe if I didn't tell you about the cat, you wouldn't at all. Even under appropriate viewing conditions, it's not readily apparent that everything easily seen is just a framing device.

Then your eye settles upon the cat. With that, it's clearly all about the cat and forevermore.

Just sayin'.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Hidden Places, Summer 2017

Bayfield County, WI

Well, Cornucopia's not hidden and neither is the big-assed lake it hugs. Let's call those far reaches. And being summer I'd say the livin' was easy, as mostly it was. But the lively mosquitoes one morning at Bobcat Lake give me pause, even in contented retrospect.

I'd been gone from the Northwoods a month short of two years. Maybe the longest stretch since before my putative majority. Hard to say. That's a lot of life and things grow long. Heather was absent the Big Lake longer still. In other words and all things considered, too damn long.

Summer around Superior is a season of not always getting what I want, except when I let it, what's needed tends to find me. This year the lake stayed cold. Swam anyway.


Bayfield County, WI

Men went to sea in that. The boat and the men who on it daily risked their lives to fish share a rich and stormy story. Every time I look at it and even given being all worn out I think, We need a bigger boat. Small boat for such a big lake. Insubstantial even, what with the plywood and such playing bulwark against an angry sea.

Yet the boats went out. The men fished. As from Cornucopia they do still today.

Bayfield County, WI

You'll notice the boat's not so different. A squat, hardy vessel. Vulnerable looking with the back doors open wide as they must be, to run nets. Updated with an array of no doubt really handy gizmos and maybe better powered. To me a mighty small boat just the same, when out questing on cold, deep Superior and getting slapped hard for the effort. Then as now.

So if trolling the Bayfield Peninsula this coming harvest time, swing out Cornucopia way to consider the wrecks and the ships and the men. Then buy fish at Halverson's, no question where those come from.


Bayfield County, WI

Downstream of that (or upstream going in), do yourself the favor and take a brief walk through high quality woods to visit the Houghton Falls Preserve. This run of intermittent creek cuts through crazily precipitous rock so collected snow melt or rainwater can run as needed to the inland sea. Previously a hidden place, now given tender loving care and made convenient for casual visitors to boot. But should you think the little trickle down there's not so much, that logjam at the center speaks to fury and make no mistake.


Summer in the Northwoods is resolutely green. Some folk like it. Tourists mostly, though I happily defer to those who prefer the warm comfy season no matter where. For my money summer's high sun does neither the work nor the fishing any favors. And it's still all stinkin' green.

This is my favorite backwoods meadow. I've shot this meadow on and off for maybe 40 years and it remains a mystery to me. Between blinding deluges, the light was soft. The meadow's glorious in full flower. Maybe I've never seen it so rich, even with the years. The sublime, rolling architecture of the place is intact.

Gogebic County, MI

But I don't smell it. Can't hear it, not the insects or the wind or the profound quiet that often comes over the place. As much as anything, that brings me back. Guess I'll just have to try again.

Finally, not so long past the height of summer I found the harbinger of change that's always present in the Northwoods, no matter the season. Only winter ever gets seriously locked in and that not so regular or lengthy as used to be. Everything else flows quickly one to the other and sometimes due to the latitude and the embrace of Superior, verdant summer runs quicker still. Or seems to.

You just never know what you'll find around beaver ponds. Sometimes it's a whole other season. With apologies to my friends who live there, can't hardly wait…

Gogebic County, MI

Friday, August 4, 2017

Patrick O'Neill January 17, 1937 – July 31st, 2017

Pat O'Neill is dead. With that, a fierce voice for the Northwoods and stalwart champion of its young folk has passed. The poet Patrick O'Neill wrote:

Death is life.
It's why we're all here,
because of the dead.
Our homes, our clothing, our food, our compositions
are donated bodies of the once living -- gifts.
The dead are our primary caregivers.

But does a writer ever really die, so long as their words can be found? At any rate, I know some writers who hope not.

After a lengthy, productive life, poet and teacher Patrick O'Neill is gone. The Northwoods are the poorer for it. Pat didn't want any fuss. Far as I know, there won't be an obituary. I'm told there'll be a gathering tomorrow night at Nora's in Hurley, you'd best call before showing up. I'm far away from the Range, where news neither travels particularly fast nor necessarily remains sound over distance. Things change.

Should you care to read what I've written of Pat, go here. Should you like to honor him for a life well lived, go here and order one or more of his books. I have to believe arrangements are made so the sale of those will continue his good work for the youth of the region. More even than his poetry, that work speaks for Pat and will, for generations.

Patrick O'Neill spoke for himself, for the Northwoods and its many children about as fiercely and well as any man I've met. So he gets the last word here.

Save Godspeed, old man

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Summer Solstice 2017, Addendum

Shining Light on the Prairie...

This year's solstice was splendid 'round these parts. A near perfect summer day, not too warm and with a breeze from the northeast, whispering down the length of our local great lake. Unlike any other season, this time of year that wind's a blessing.

Given such opportunity on the longest day of the year, Heather and I spent quality time out & about.

While it's true winter's coming and make no mistake, here's the thing about summer, whether in the Northwoods or on the prairie:

Everybody eats.

And if you can't quite find that in the last image, you'll just have to trust me…

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Solstice 2017 -- 11:24 PM, CDT

Yeah, I jumped the gun a bit. Long day, tomorrow. Starts early, stays late…

Marquette County, MI

Not everyone celebrates summer solstice by dancing naked 'round the fire, metaphorical fire or no.

Typically, I don't do much field work during summer. The light is harsh, the woods obscured by life unbound and the universe around goes resolutely green. How many shades of green does it take, before everything becomes an emerald wash?

And it's all an illusion, anyway. An excuse to dance naked around the fire for to revel in Earth's priceless, live-sustaining bounty. Long may it last.

The truth is the world has turned. As of now the countdown to the shortest day of winter is on. It's inexorable. In recognition of that, to some northern folk summer solstice is an unwelcome reminder of hard, dark days to come.

You mightn't share their attitude, but they're not wrong.

For my friends along the Superior Basin who understand that and who mark the solstice each in their own way, I dug through my back catalog for images of soft summer to commemorate the day. Winter's coming all right (or so I've heard), but this magnificent, god's honest comfort comes first.

So for now, party on.

Captured on film along the shore of Superior, mostly during magic hours when summer's light is long, the cool of the morning is warm upon the skin and the evening chill provides welcome respite from the day:

Keweenaw County, MI

Ontario, Canada

Keweenaw County, MI

Ontario, Canada

Gogebic County, MI