Thursday, June 14, 2018

Speaking of Fish...

Grown dissatisfied with the state of things on my native prairie and itching to do real work, I chased spring north. At the eastern edge of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore spring even now edges into summer, which comes late to the Northwoods and most years, doesn't stay long. I arrived just in time.

This was strictly a hit and run working trip intended to fulfill a longstanding promise I'd made to myself. No time to recreate. I worked hard and nailed it. Will show & tell more, later.

Tiger Swallowtails were courting, en masse. More than I'd ever seen in one place. Biting flies and mosquitoes swarmed. Fresh life was thrown everywhere, in abundance.

Upon hearing rumors of trout working their way up the Hurricane River and even though I wasn't carrying my fishing gear, of course I went to see for myself. Never pass up a chance to watch fish do their fishy thing, I say.

Behold, a true wonder of nature:

It's inestimably rare, to catch a fish with only my camera.

Intent on spawning, these trout are working their way up their natal stream as far as they can go, which on the aptly named Hurricane is likely a set of falls not far upstream from this. They push forward relentlessly and having labored mightily to get only this far, are desperate to not fall back.

Notice how the biggest fish in this trio taking a breather is nestled in behind the smaller fish, making his task easier:

As this fish gasped for breath in the short rushing river, its upper jaw threw a spray of current a full foot or more into the air. I've never seen the like.

Predawn along the Adams Trail Saturday morning last, wolves sang in the fast fading dark while myriad birds and frogs offered up voices in song.

Later, coyotes yipped and yapped. With full sun, Trumpeter Swans and Sandhill Cranes called.

And for a little while of transcendent time on a Monday morning at the cusp of summer beside a wild Northwoods river, fish were the definitely the thing. Far as I know, those don't sing. Or if they do, it's in voices we don't hear.

At any rate, one can't always have everything, but sometimes in the Northwoods magic happens and like a gift you get what you need. Even when you didn't know you needed exactly that.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Spring, 2018, Part 2

Well then.

Persistently colder than normal. For instance, last Sunday on the prairie it got all the way up to about 48 degrees and it poured cold rain.

Heather calls that "camping weather". Once, we were young. At least she remembers.

Did I mention the rain?

To date, the 4th rainiest May on record, with more May (and rain) yet to come.

On those few scattered nice days I've been out, Spring 2018 is thoroughly confused.

By this point, I'm not. So rather than tap dance around in my back catalog any further, I've...

See you sometime in June...

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Spring 2018 or… Not. So. Fast.

This year, what folk like to say always happens but only occasionally does actually might. This year, the prairie will likely turn from winter to summer in a thrice. No gentle, glorious unfoldment of spring need apply.

Sure, at some point delicate flowers will bloom in detritus and blackbirds will call. That time's not yet. At this rate, humidity and biting insects might follow fast on the tender season's heels. There'll be scant chance to see the swamp through the trees before an abundance of everything obscures the view.

Of course, frogs will sing. Probably they already have, on one or more of a few sunny days when it wasn't also too near freezing. Like people, frogs jump the gun. In any event, I've not been there to hear. On the prairie this week last year, cacophonous frog song called me to the dance.

This week last year, swamp willows led the way for barely blushing oak savannas. Geese tended goslings.

In the swamp, Sandhill Cranes stalked while marigolds glistened.

At swollen water's edge, the wetlands popped.

Hillocks became alive.

The sun shone and a cold land warmed. As it should, on the prairie in April. Blackbirds called.

This week, on Sunday and Monday then again yesterday, it snowed. To date, April 2018 makes for a decent February pretty much any year. The only thing really happy in the garden is the lupine. That figures, as its seed came direct from the Northwoods.

As to those Northwoods, whose green face I savor best at first blush in spring, before this week word to fishermen awaiting the May opener was to not pack away the ice fishing gear. A couple varying feet of winter's ice still lay protected beneath a couple varying feet of accumulated snow and it'd be awhile, yet.

Then came the April blizzard of 2018. It'll be a while longer before ice fishing is over, I'd think.

A dear friend sent this dispatch from the front. It captures Superior at the Minnesota shore near Split Rock. I looked at the image hard and long for any sign of spring and found none.


Better him than me I think, working the blizzard and no thought whatsoever of spring.

They say next week should be about "normal", I'll believe that when it happens. Today the prairie remains largely brown, sodden and chill, but at least I've a happy lupine for company.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Old World Craft

Unlike the relocated, reconstructed buildings at Old World Wisconsin, Ontario's Fort William was from the ground up recreated into the Canadian National Historic Site that it is. Not exactly on the Kaministiquia River where it used to be, either. Small wonder. I've seen the waterfront on Superior at Thunder Bay.

They handcraft genuine voyageur canoes inside that modest structure captured above. On reasonably sunny days, the place is bathed in about the richest interior light I've ever seen. During my first visit to Fort William some decades ago, I could hardly believe my eyes:

I love canoes in much the same way I love great light.

Specifically, I love my canoe, a Nova Craft 'Bob Special' purchased at the retail shop of the late legend, Ralph Frese. A blacksmith, environmentalist and raconteur (among other things), Ralph was probably best known as a maker of voyageur canoes.

A complex kinda guy, trust me. By the time I met him, Ralph's international reputation well established.

For much of my life I rented canoes as needed, mostly from Bob Zelinski's Sylvania Outfitters. Heather & I ride one of Bob's old 18' Grumman aluminum beasts near to hell in The Bear Story.

Used to be, just over from the Outfitter's stood the Watersmeet version of Stark's Cabins. Those came down before I ever got to shoot them. There's also a colorful vignette about the sunny morning when waiting on Bob I met two aged backwoods Bingo ladies in half light. That tale should probably be told, but I've digressed...

It was a long time before finally buying my own canoe and I picked the best place I knew to do it. On the big day, Ralph Frese worked in his blacksmith shop out back. As a salesman completed the paperwork, I dared wander over and introduce myself to Ralph.

"I've wanted a canoe for thirty years and today is the day", I said.

Ralph looked me up and down. He snuffed.

"Wasted thirty good years then, didn't 'ya."

Sometime later Ralph Frese and I discussed making a documentary about the Fox River in Illinois. That didn't go far. In my experience, Ralph suffered no fools.

The canoe makers at Fort William still practice old world craft in a time-honored way. That they do it in a splendid working environment must be a bonus.

During my latest visit to the workshop at Fort William, a craft master rather obliquely shared with me his opinion of Ralph Frese. Turns out not everyone in the voyageur world holds an unvarnished opinion of Ralph, ce' la vie.

I appreciated the man's honesty and additional insight into a legend I was privileged to know somewhat, almost as much as I appreciate both men's craft.

Winter's ending. Not so much in the Northwoods, but still. Long light grows shorter by the day. The inevitable turning is here.

This year on the prairie that means that though ice is out it's too stinking cold to indulge the canoe. Perhaps soon I'll suddenly find I'm too old for mine. That season's sure to come. When it does there'll be nothing sudden about it, truth be told. We'll see.

Meanwhile, on a chilly sunny Thursday just a few days short of the vernal equinox promising better days, here's to old world craft and old canoes. To cranky old craftsmen, anxious old fishermen and luminous light.

Always, the luminous light. No surprise to me I found that in abundance, in an old world canoe shop.

Also, to the memory of notable voyageur Ralph Frese and his once famous blacksmith/canoe shop. There, a multi-story apartment project is now being completed. You can rent a place on a bustling commercial street at twice monthly what years ago I once paid in full, for my very own canoe.

Ralph was right.

I've done my best to make amends since, because life sans my canoe would've proved too short...

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.