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

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Shining Light on the Prairie, Spring 2017

Spring proved recalcitrant this year. Resolutely wet & chill, patience led to opportunity just the same. So though I'm late to this venue, it's been a particularly productive season.

With fresh consideration of my boyhood prairies, it's occurred to me the mission's not so different than working Fayette or Old World Wisconsin, which essentially are heritage architecture theme parks.

Pre-settlement (that's before white folk and their applied industry), grassland stretched across roughly 1.4 million square miles of North America. In some places grasses grew as high as ten feet, from fifteen feet of particularly fecund topsoil. All manner of life thrived there.

Widely considered wasteland fit only for heathen savages too ignorant to bend the land to their will, settlers called it The Great American Desert or The Inland Sea. They said sometimes even on a horse you couldn't see over the top of it, and so were lost. Then the plow broke the plains.

Today the American grasslands are recognized as having been a manifest natural miracle of ecological diversity, sprung from a riotous abundance of detritus. And such is life.

Less than 2% of that complex magnificence remains. Of my local tallgrass prairie featuring glacial moraines, oak savannas and shallow creeks meandering through marshland, still less. Everything else long ago went over to farms, towns, cities and the occasional gravel pit. If you think that sort of progress doesn't accrue debt to the land at a staggering rate, feel free to think again.

Anyway, tallgrass prairie remnants are essentially bio-preservationist theme parks. These precious shards of what was exist only because some small number of people decided they should, while an even more select group of folk dedicate their lives to seeing that they do. That others of us can visit, marvel and if so inclined learn from the land is but a happy bonus.

Yet unlike lifeless Fayette frozen in time with its ghosts, or conglomerate Old World Wisconsin and its curated collection of reassembled artifacts, even within such critically pinched boundaries, prairies teem with life as intended.

Last year, I'd trouble seeing the prairie. It'd been a long time since I'd considered the grasslands in anything other than the abstract. The tall grass can indeed dull and blind you, though no longer just as they said. But this second year afoot on the prairie, the scent and song of air over the grass again lends me the vision necessary to see. It's like being intimate with a one-time lover after decades apart. Inevitably, closely held secrets come to light.

Ordinarily, these next weeks on the calendar are when I chase trillium and smallmouth in the Northwoods. Spring's been no bargain there either. Given it's only ten days or so that the place got beat down by an ice storm, a late June visit following a wet week on the Kingston Plains looks better by the day. Even despite the likelihood of getting savaged by clouds of biting bugs and welcome to paradise, eh?

In the interim the prairie offered up marsh marigolds and trillium both, you just have to know where to look. Prior to the last few years I thought those the province of northern climes and have upon occasion in ignorance traveled long distances to pursue their charms.

So while I'm currently chasing spring largemouth on prairie lakes and not smallies in wilderness rivers, at least there's been a taste of what's sorely missed and that's like a gift sent down my way, from Superior…

Friday, March 10, 2017

Apocalypse, Then

Let us not speak softly now, the hour is getting late...
(Apologies to Bob Dylan)

Iron County, WI


In a somewhat different context during definitely different times, Thomas Jefferson wrote: The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.

Strange, that when leaning on this quote to support whatever agenda, most every supposed patriot urging resistance to tyranny real, would-be or imagined omits the reference to manure.

Gogebic County, MI

Maybe since we've long consigned to history's dustbin the agrarian culture that informed Jefferson, the revolution he fostered and about half the later narrative of the nation he helped found, that line's presumed irrelevant. Simply another right and proper casualty of progress. Like video cassette tape, cursive script and labor unions.

More likely we just don't like thinking of ourselves as America's manure, preferring instead to believe we're its masters.

Delta County, MI

When people honor history, mostly they mean their heritage. The difference may seem academic, but isn't. In fact, like Jefferson's reference to manure, it's operative. And the mistake we make when confusing the two compounds by the day until the truth of who we've been and how we came to be lies buried beneath generations of nostalgia piled high upon self-serving invention. That renders our collective path forward not merely obscure, but necessarily fractious.

After all, when we refuse to accept the full breadth and width of how we got to here, how can we honestly acknowledge who we are in order to build agreement on what sort of people we should become?

What's true is that for myriad reasons – occasionally righteous and far too often not – untold numbers of patriots have refreshed Jefferson's tree of liberty with their blood. But homegrown tyrants, not so much.

Gogebic County, MI

We take such pride in the storied success of American-style capitalism that imagined as much or more than real success defines us. I say American-style because ours certainly isn't the capitalism of Adam Smith, who wrote the original book:

To feel much for others and little for ourselves; to restrain our selfishness and exercise our benevolent affections, constitute the perfection of human nature.

Nor is it the capitalism of John Maynard Keynes, who later rewrote the book for much of the rest of the more or less free world:

The social object of skilled investment should be to defeat the dark forces of ignorance which envelope our future.

Truth is there's scant happy consensus about anything when it comes to economic theory, not even among those who peddle what's basically the same delivered wisdom. That only figures, what with the sand upon which they stake their claim to social righteousness via political power being ever sifted by an omnipresent invisible hand.

Alger County, MI

Funny how that works, eh?

Damned convenient too, that no theorist no matter how exalted need ever get things finally right. In devoted pursuit of their own collective happiness, these worshipers at the altar of data must merely pass their articles of faith on to the next generation of True Believers to go right on mucking around with the lives of all, in perpetuity. No even semi-reasonable endgame to this tinkering with people's supposedly inalienable liberties need ever apply.

Imagine that. An Invisible Hand. Might as well call it God and give up.

So with the caveat that everything depends on who's doing the figuring and why...

Since 1785 we the People have suffered as many as nine economic Panics, five full blown depressions and thirty-four recessions. Including the most recent, now dubbed by some The Great Recession apparently to distinguish it in the historical ledger from our bewildering collection of run-o-the mill recessions. But not including the next recession some economists warn is already overdue.

Anyway, over pretty much the entire political/economic life of the country, it adds up to roughly one fresh economic catastrophe of varying duration and degree every 4.8 years. That recurrent suffering is typically borne not by politicians or their moneyed masters, but by them leaving the rest of us permanently indentured to the increasingly uncertain futures of our children and the nation they'll inherit.

The whole arrangement stinks of wolfish tyranny masked in sheep's tattered hope. A tyranny masked by perennially unfulfilled but always ostensibly patriotic promise. And if in fact true blue American tyranny, whose blood refreshes its corrupt and ever corruptive tree at the Republic's ongoing peril? Mostly regular folk. The long, long list of intermittently hallowed dead patriots included.

What's true is that in addition to multinational corporations, Internet facility, coffee on demand and everyone's metaphorical bootstraps, the result of your average American's faith in their nation's storied economic heritage all but inevitably ends up looking something like this:

Houghton County, MI

And why should anyone be surprised? It's called creative destruction, after all.


The history of the Superior Basin and in particular the Upper Peninsula of Michigan offers an object lesson in the Boom & Bust nature of American socioeconomic politics. An ongoing experiment that sustains the already powerful in a fashion to which they figure they're entitled, whatever the century. That same narrative also tends to leave workers and other common folk from whose labor wealth actually springs entirely on their own to bear the heritage of degraded landscapes, near perpetual poverty and ultimately, multigenerational despair.

From fur to timber, from ore to today's politics of fear, if there's one dominant theme that runs through the otherwise diverse material I've gathered over the years, that's it. So over the forthcoming months we'll periodically examine that aspect of the region's history, along with the peculiarly American heritage it so ably illustrates.

It's in me to do. And the time sure seems right to do it.

Because the clown's eyes are yet again ablaze with reflected red glory delivered via populist obsequience to American tyranny as enforced by it's ever ravenous hellhound, creative destruction unbound by an invisible hand...