I’m humbled that my movie ‘Riding with Mike‘ is an Official Selection at the the 17th Annual Filmed by Bike, a film festival featuring the world’s best bike movies.
Filmmakers from around the globe will flock to Portland this May 17-19 for the bike rides, dance parties, Q+A sessions, workshops and awards ceremonies. This year’s festival features a mix of styles, hard-to-find independent films and stories that aren’t being given the attention they deserve. Proud to be a part of this global bike movement!
Today: David Bowman, a Minneapolis-based photographer. Among his eclectic portfolio is work reflecting his strong attachment to the outdoors — particularly Minnesota’s North Shore. Bowman’s work has been featured across major publications. He also recently completed a project documenting a bike messenger in bustling Chicago — Mike, 50, one of Bowman’s childhood friends.
Used books are my favorite form of recycling. I enjoy finding clues in the margins, and I wonder who read them before me. My wife is an associate librarian, and she runs a Little Free Library on our busy corner in south Minneapolis. I built the Cape Cod-inspired structure from scratch with my dad. It’s dedicated to my father-in-law. He was a journalism professor at MCTC Minneapolis Community Technical College for more than 20 years. I recently found a crisp, signed edition of “The Seven States of Minnesota” by John Toren. In it, he divides our state into seven outdoor regions: Bluff Country, Southern Plains, Heartland Lakes and Forest, Arrowhead, Boglands, Iron Range, and Red River Valley. I find that the various geographic zones match my own experience as an itinerant artist, traveling across a changing landscape as I explore the state. I moved here 25 years ago and haven’t run out of people or places to photograph yet.
I’m obsessed with the Great Lakes. My dad’s grandparents met on the North Shore in the late 1800s. He was a lumberjack, and she was a nurse. My parents lived on the Mesabi Iron Range, and my dad worked in a mine. Eventually they moved down to Chicagoland, where I grew up along the western shores of Lake Michigan.
I understand why many Minnesotans are worried about sulfide mining near the Boundary Waters. But to me, the more immediate threat from PolyMet’s copper-nickel mine is to the Great Lakes, whose watershed begins within hiking distance of the mine. Seven Beaver Lake is the headwaters of the St. Louis River, the largest tributary to Lake Superior on the American side. Sediment washes down this river toward Duluth, and into the Great Lakes beyond. I’m concerned that this mine will create permanent, toxic pollution in the headwaters of Lake Superior.
I’m a big fan of the Coen brothers, and their insider-as-outsider perspective on the Minnesota psyche. Recently I watched “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” on Netflix, which blew me away. I thought it was horrible at first, and then slowly became addicted — always a good sign. I also enjoyed “Fargo,” both the FX series and the movie. Because of the title, not many people realize that most of the movie was shot in the Twin Cities. To commemorate the film’s 20th anniversary, Mpls.St.Paul magazine commissioned me to rephotograph the remaining set locations in the metro area, exploring the passage of time through still photography.
Nothing beats listening to a good story while printing in the darkroom, or driving home late at night across the frozen tundra. My favorite audio books are by Cormac McCarthy. I love the language he uses to describe landscape, and our human connection to it.
I left Chicago more than 30 years ago, after I graduated from high school. Since then, everyone’s moved away. You could say the place I grew up is gone. But some things remain, including my best friend, Mike, who works downtown as a 50-year-old bike messenger. I caught up with him last fall, two cameras around my neck, and tailed him on a bicycle as he crisscrossed the Loop, delivering takeout meals across the city. Read the story, watch the movie, and view the stills on my website: Riding with Mike.
Sundays in 8th grade were pretty boring. Especially in winter. Our favorite indoor spots were closed, and it was too snowy and cold to do much outside except maybe walk around and smoke.
One Sunday in January Mike had an idea. His dad worked at an ad agency; They’d been given a bunch of outdoor swag by a client, including an inflatable raft. The plan was to get a ride out to Bemis woods in the morning, blow up the raft, and spend a lazy winter’s day floating down Salt Creek.
Even in the dead of winter, Salt Creek didn’t freeze. Maybe that’s because it wasn’t water. We thought of it more as a sewage cocktail, mixed with runoff and a dash of effluent, oozing down to the Chicago Sanitary Canal. We’d been warned not to fall in, or risk being infected with 22+ diseases.
Salt Creek wound it’s way through the Cook County Forest Preserve, a network of protected wooded zones spread out across Chicagoland. Originally designed as an urban oasis, by the 1980s it had become a no-man’s-land and reputed playground for mobsters and serial killers looking for a quiet place to dump a body.
We were in for a surprise. Apparently a 2-person river raft requires a lot of air, and we didn’t have a pump. Instead we unrolled it on the snow and took turns blowing into it until we were dizzy. Eventually the head rush was so bad that we decided to stop. We figured it was inflated enough to float us home.
Which it did, sort of. Lying on our backs, we drifted under highways and along hidden tracts of land for about an hour, until the boat got stuck on the shallow bottom. At that point we had to step into the creek with gym shoes and push. Without hats or gloves, and nothing to keep us warm except Irish coffee and cigarettes, we got cold.
The situation devolved. In our minds, we were lost at sea, stranded in a raft without means for rescue. The boat deflated and sank. We climbed out in the middle of the woods and our feet were numb. Abandoning ship, we hobbled back to Mike’s parent’s house, which was surprisingly close. I ran up to their bathroom and thawed my frozen feet in the tub, watching my toes shift from bright white to blazing red.
I borrowed some dry clothes from Mike and walked home. Sundays weren’t boring any more.
The first thing I did after finishing college in Madison was hop on a plane for Ireland. My flight left from O’Hare, so I arrived in Chicago a few days early and crashed with former dorm mates at their North Side flat.
We went out to a bar across the street, a subterranean place directly under the elevated tracks that rumbled every time a train passed over. I met an artist who had been shot by a mugger a few years earlier, emerged from a coma, and changed his name to MR. IMAGINATION. He wore a suit covered with flattened bottle caps that had been folded over and sewn into his clothing like fish scales.
Mr. IMAGINATION invited us up to his apartment, along narrow paths through rooms jammed with Egyptian sculptures. He lived in a wedge-shaped building with slow moving El trains out the windows on both sides that were so close I could read the headlines on the commuters’ newspapers jerking past.
I returned the next day with a camera and shot his portrait. I didn’t know it at the time, but six months later I’d be back in Chicago, and good friends with MR. IMAGINATION. I made him a print and he hung it up. Later, when the Terra Museum organized a retrospective of his work, they discovered the portrait and displayed it in the museum. It was my first gallery show.
My first selfie, shot in my room for a self-portrait assignment, due the next day. I had already broken my dad’s camera. This one was a loaner from my high school photography teacher, Nan Garside. I didn’t have a tripod, so I set the camera on the edge of my desk, which added some blur around the bottom of the frame.
I was about to graduate from high school. A couple weeks earlier I had seen the mountains and ocean for the first time, on a road trip to Daytona Beach for spring break with the guys from my lunch table.
I’d lived in the same house for 18 years, and it wouldn’t be long till I left for college in Madison, and moved away forever. This was the end. But also the beginning.