Saturday, January 30, 2016

Some Clowns...

Hundreds of dark miles distant, Superior rolls on. There it awaits the raging winter storm that as I write throws a sharp blanket of ice over everything 'round these parts, concrete and remnant prairie both. It's a good night to make like a cricket and hold close to the hearth.

Up north, most creatures not already fled south for the winter lay low with the dark season's apex. Down here even during an ice storm, what remains of the prairie provides sustainable sustenance and shelter to a riotously diverse and fiercely competitive population. When still a sea of grass upon which white folk hadn't sailed, the prairie supplied everything for some of us too. We outgrew the space.

Once the fieldwork that made this project ended, I returned to the landscape that raised me and as regards the great Northwoods am again just another transient. The lush wilds of Superior brim with those during spring summer and fall but not so much otherwise because who in North America wants to fly north for the winter? In some ways I'm yet to fully regain my bearings from such prolonged and intimate exposure to so formidable and complex a landscape as the Superior Basin, though I understand better than ever that wherever I might be, for me Superior is true north.

Things Growing from Other Things #4
Ontonagon County, MI, 2012
120mm transparency film

A reintroduction is in order, as our menu has recently changed.

I was until recently a shooter of large format film, even then an archaic craft. I made a longtime specialty of heritage architecture being steadily reclaimed by wildness around the Superior Basin. Now I'm a multidisciplinary creative (freelance division) just like damned near everybody else.

Individuals always have had their own unique way of looking at things, their personal vision. By and large they kept that to themselves, as barriers to entry beyond casual creative expression ran high. These days anyone with half an inclination expresses their personal vision then distributes it at will to the same rollicking ether where all individual uniqueness gets uploaded to market on roughly equal footing and making a decent living from one's creative wits is too often just a happy accident.

Things Growing from Other Things #7
Iron County WI, 2015
Nikon 800e

When I took up my last large format journey around Lake Superior, regional galleries offered fine art prints struck from film and at a good price. Fourteen months later, where those galleries displayed any photographic prints at all they were digital capture, tucked away from high traffic patterns and peddled cheap. Now that's what you call turnover.

Likewise when I set out, shooters specializing in wrecked architecture were relatively rare. Fewer still worked in medium or especially large format transparency. That club was naturally self- limiting.

Dickson County MI, 2012
120mm transparency film

Except about the same time my personal/professional Odyssey around Superior was over, buses guided groups of tourists through ruined Detroit. Today for a fee people gather at the edges of generational despair to compile on their whiz-bang devices virtually undifferentiated catalogues of what some now refer to as ruin porn.

Suddenly, the field I'd enjoyed working in relative solitude grew if not exactly crowded then no longer a rare pursuit, either. Two pair of casual Sunday shooters came and went during the couple hours last September that I worked this ruin up on the Keweenaw. A fifth digital imagist arrived as I left.

Center Cut
Houghton County MI, 2015
 Nikon 800e

Guess I'll just have to wander farther afield.

Creative narrative often develops an organic life of its own. With the film and me too exhausted, it seemed the right time for this one to close as planned. Then an opportunity unexpectedly arose to acquire the Nikon and lo & behold, I wasn't a retired imagist after all. Story is stubborn, even willful. So it is with the ether life of this one, no less than the analytics support that.

Natural, historical, cultural and personal stories are what our narrative is made of. What our narrative amounts to, we are.

Look to Longfellow, Hemingway and even the curious history of the Ontonagon Boulder for examples of how creative liberty when taken with cultural narrative generationally alters what's commonly accepted for fact. Wholesale invention worms its way into our collective narrative and we act upon its compounding infelicities as if they were true. Then consider the sublime coexistence of geologic truth with Ojibwa cultural imperative, in which approximate harmony one can choose to believe they each confirm the other, or not. Small wonder so many folk these days don't seem to know whether we're coming or going.

Some Clowns Just Want to Watch the Circus Burn (Detail)
Houghton County MI, 2015
Nikon 800e

Ours is a radical era during a revolutionary age. The loudest, most persistent voices among us shout out the danger of our times, often for reasons in mutual opposition. Fear is a contaminant. It permeates the air and has the predator in us edgy. But what time since the beginning of time hasn't been dangerous?

If our age is more threatening than others of recent vintage, it's only that we choose to make it so. The maddeningly complex and frequently absurd dichotomies that propel living human narrative forward are on us, there's no one else. While our ancient cousin the wolf watches warily from those narrow margins of the real world left it as we unfold...

Vintage 35mm chrome of a captive Grey Wolf

The Superior Basin overflows with narrative sprung organically from the earth over the length of worldly time. The first humans to see the place were likely immigrants skirting desert plateaus of ice heaped upon a region where well outside collective memory volcanoes once raged.

By the time we arrived, mountains that rose over the place after the volcanoes subsided were worn down to nubs. Wolf, bear, eagle and a host others had long since earned relative prosperity from a naturally hard terrain. The ice receded. Some people stayed to work copper scraped from veins left exposed to human invention by the ravages of age.

The superior nature of the basin later drew a succession of predatory characters who writ their stories large upon the culture. The fur trappers of legend & lore. Followed by miners, lumbermen and other takers who took much from the place for to craft civilization as we've grown accustomed to it in the blink of an old growth forest's eye.

That was a particularly robust chapter, widely celebrated in story and song. Being only so recent it still clings to us as we do to it and damn the pesky torpedoes anyway, full speed ahead.

The Kingston Plains
Alger County MI, 2012
120mm transparency film

That predatory thread bleeds uncorrected right through into today's radicalized chapter of the story. Our own takers insist the mere existence of critical natural resources no matter how permanently dwindled or damaging the extraction requires we surrender those to unsustainable ends or face certain doom sooner, rather than later. Far as that goes they're about right, of course. But their way, our way of life still requires us killing all of it simply to survive until the day it's our turn.

And what the hell kind of a plan is that?

Worse, the takers use punitive politics to press their unsustainable case even while grabbing everything they can for themselves from the rest of us. At their prerogative that includes the viable economic lives of good people who answered the call and joined them at cold, hard Superior to over the course of generations help bring the varied blessings of our modern world to America and in the name of everyone, not just some few.

The wolf, bear, eagle and Indian. The miner, logger and every other immigrant who for whatever reason first were drawn to this wild place rightly called Superior, they struggle individually and all against each other to maintain an ancestral hold on its ever changing landscape of immemorial magnificence. 

Roughly that same tale is told across the rest of the world today. What's true is that there's only one earthly story and here we are, in it all together. Everything under the sun has its part to play, separate but equally besieged during a revolutionary age.

When I finished the fieldwork that made this project, I returned both injured and ill to the landscape that raised me. Recovery proved difficult. In the interim I turned 60, realized recovery was forever after a strictly relative term and that altered my perspective.

Hanging Man
Wolverine/Mohawk Keweenaw County MI, 2015
Nikon 800e

At any rate, it strikes me as no good time to be retiring because how our chapter of the ongoing story plays out is on me, as it is on you. Ours is a radicalized era during a revolutionary age, when a multitude of fear whipped by self-interest competes for anything like fresh air and the predator in us is sore restless, what with the raging fire and all.

We ought better consider that to the prairie and forest both, fire is a friend.

Ladder Crew
Wolverine/Mohawk Keweenaw County MI, 2015
Nikon 800e


I've updated the masthead to better reflect the times and punted on a fresh Artist's Statement. Rehab of the Resource List and Bibliography remains ongoing.

Travel Resources for the Superior Basin along with links to websites, webcams, blogs and other such that feature news & views from around the region are added and will be updated as needed. Those're for infotainment purposes only, no other endorsement implied. There's also a short list with links to blogs by writer friends of mine.

I'll do my best to keep my little slice of ether better occupied than it's lately been. Times change and so must we, to survive them. The plan is to work on fewer things in order to work better on those I do best. We'll see how that goes.

The generosity of spirit gifted me by those I've met through this project goes a long way to sustaining both it and me. Thank-you for being here.

Fayette MI, 2003
4x5 transparency film

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