After a string of random jobs (janitor, deli cook, house painter, darkroom printer) I fell into freelance photo assisting. Up to that point I’d been shooting black & white film with small and medium format cameras. But that’s about it. That’s all I knew.
Photo assisting became my technical education: large format cameras, color transparency film, strobe and continuous lighting, portrait and still life, on location — or in the studio. And best of all: free lunch.
Above is a photo of my assisting van, aka Mr. Negative. I bought it for $600 from the Gear Daddies band and glued outtake film in a pattern along the outside. The sliding door was bolted shut, there was no radio, heat, or AC. The windows were manual, and the ignition was hot-wired. No key required.
Voted ‘Best Black & White’ Art Car in the 1998 Wheels as Art Parade.
This post is my tribute to the next generation of photographers, hunkered down through endless winter, trying to make sense of this moment in time.
Don’t give up now! This whole mess is temporary. It takes years to build a career. Do something. Use this time to plan, learn and get ready for growth. It will happen.
My oldest daughter began college at a small liberal arts school, in search of the classic dorm experience. Halfway through freshman year, the pandemic hit and they closed the dorm. All she had to show for her original dream was a tuition bill and a bunch of online classes she never wanted.
This is a kid who was reaching for my camera before she could walk – or talk. She quit that school, and enrolled in a filmmaking program at a technical college.
On weekends, we cruise around Minnesota in a car full of cameras, looking for socially distant adventure. The photos you see here are from a recent drive we made down the Mississippi River, from Minneapolis to Lake Pepin.
I’m proud to be teaching (and learning from) this generation. Carry on.
Stoked to find my portrait of the U.S. synchronized swim team in a new book of historic photographs from the National Geographic image collection.
My photo of the synchronized swim team is on the left. Across the page is a similar group portrait of women training to be lifeguards and swim instructors in North Carolina, photographed by J. Baylor Roberts in 1941.
89 feet up and teetering over the deep end, I shot this from the tip of an Indianapolis high-dive back in 2012 for TIME magazine. The olympic coach lay next to me, her head and shoulders dangling overboard, gesticulating instructions to the swim team below.
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!
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.
I delivered a talk this weekend on the subject of landing jobs, negotiating contracts, and getting paid to a crowded house at the Northern Exposure photojournalism conference in Minneapolis, hosted by the University of Minnesota Hubbard School of Journalism.
The conference was originally meant to be held live on the U of M campus. But like everything else academic, it was moved online for the sake of social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic. The audience was packed with photographers from around the world — and, thanks to Zoom — I now have a recording to share with you and my students.
To make this photo, I shot the club early in the morning on a ‘snow emergency’ day in March of 2019, when no cars blocked the view. Then I stitched 60 individual photographs—from both 7th Street and First Avenue—into a single, flattened composition. There are more than 425 silver stars—and one gold one—on the building’s facade. Happy 50th birthday First Ave!
I shot my first advertising job in the summer of 2001. I’d been working as a photo assistant prior to that, mostly freelance. That’s how I met my wife.
I was the 1st assistant on a BMW shoot, running the 8×10 camera. I’d been on the job for weeks, first in Detroit, and then St. Paul, sequestered in remote, cavernous spaces with a bunch of stinky photo dudes. No windows and long, endless winter days in dark studios for double-time pay.
On the final night, Hallie walked in. She’d been hired at the last minute to help load out the gear. She walked in and I was like: I know you… Angie’s roommate, right? We’d met briefly in 1993, about 6 years earlier during a visit to Minneapolis. I’d seen her around since, watched her band play live, always remembering that we’d met.
We both drove full-sized vans. Hers had belonged to the former pitcher of the Minnesota Twins. She came across it in the Autotrader, and drove out to Lakeville to take a look. Apparently he’d purchased the custom van after winning the World Series in 1987. Señor Smoke answered the door. He was going through a divorce and was ready to part with the championship van.
My rig had seen some miles. It had been the Gear Daddies’ touring van, a Minnesota band that played in bars for years. A car thief had broken the ignition, and it didn’t need a key. For $600, it was all mine. I doused it with house paint (better to cover the Service Master logo), glued old film along the outsides, and christened it: MR. NEGATIVE.
We got married in the late summer of 2000, and lived in a warehouse downtown St. Paul. Soon after, our first child was on the way, and I began to transition from photo assistant to full-time photographer. I started with little jobs for magazines, a local non-profit, and then some pro-bono work. By summertime, I’d landed my first full-tilt advertising job.
I hired a location scout, casting agent, stylist, hair + makeup artist, and assistants. I rented shopping carts. We had meetings. As parking lots go, Apache Plaza looked pretty good. And the agency really liked Lucille, a sweet older lady who had the look of “an elderly woman caught in a moment of youthfulness”. Hallie, pregnant and gorgeous, handled the production. We had catering for a crew of 15 in the middle of the empty parking lot, with an EZ-UP overhead, providing shade from the sun. There was a gas powered generator. I shot film.
At the end of summer, we had a baby. Everything was perfect. And then 9-11 happened. Overnight, there was no more work on the horizon as far as we could see.
Two artists with full-sized vans, no jobs, one brand-new baby, and a big hairy dog with separation anxiety, all living together in one room with concrete floors and a walk-in darkroom.
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.
This military grade lens was made for shooting 4×5 film from airplanes on recon missions during World War II. It has thorium mixed into its elements, and is radioactive.
I discovered this twin lens camera in a consignment shop out west. It was 1993, and I was living in a van behind my friend’s house in Boulder, working as a prep cook. I’d been shooting 35mm for years, and was hungry to switch up. A few months later I rode a camel across the Australian outback with this camera around my neck. It was the first cohesive body of work I ever made.
I found this little gem at a garage sale in NE Minneapolis, at the bottom of a cardboard box full of cameras. They wanted $40 for the whole shebang. There was a Hasselblad in there as well. (thx for the tip D.J. Bezek). This is my newest camera, and current favorite. It’s the same model that Robert Frank used to shoot his seminal photo book THE AMERICANS in the 1950s.
A photographer could go their entire career without shooting an 8×10 camera; I wanted to make sure that didn’t to happen to me. The great thing about Sinar cameras is that they are interchangeable, like legos. For a smaller format, this camera breaks down into 4×5, and shoots with a digital back in place of film.
When my dad shut down his machine shop, he sold off all of the equipment. Any tools that were left over, he divided between his grand children. But he saved the typewriter for me. After 50 years of sitting in a grubby, oil-infused environment, I can still smell my dad’s shop when I lift the cover and take a whiff. It’s my inheritance. And I’m not talking about the typewriter. What I mean is this: my parents sent me out into the world to become a journalist and tell stories. 30 years later, I’m doing exactly that. Thank you mom and dad for providing the tools.
Best part of this assignment was getting a phone call from Dion Dimucci, one of the musicians who survived the Winter Dance Party tour of 1959.
Dion was scheduled to be on the plane, but gave up his seat to Ritchie Valens at the last minute. He told me that when he saw my photo of the crash site, it was the first time he felt the scene had been captured with respect to the dead, and he asked if he could include my photograph in his upcoming submission to the Rocknroll Hall of Fame.
I’m honored to have been commissioned by the University of Minnesota to photograph students for their campaign to end sexual harassment on campus. The U of M is a powerful, forward-thinking institution, and a leader in public policy. I’m proud to be part of such an important project that could help transform Minnesota into a better place for everyone. #itendshere
I never thought much about shooting in the Boundary Waters, a wilderness canoe area in northern Minnesota. Frankly, it always seemed like the OPPOSITE of the kind of place I’d like to explore.
There’s no roads in the Boundary Waters; you have to travel by boat, and you need to camp out every night. Meaning you have to bring more than just camera gear. A lot more! Everything has to be carried on your back for miles between lakes, and protected from water, in case of a canoe tip (likely) — or sudden downpour (very likely). There’s no buildings, roads, motors, plumbing, electricity, or cell service.
And there’s plenty of bugs.
Any and all human-made structures that existed prior to the formation of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness were demolished and sunk to the bottom of the lakes. Executive Order 10092, signed by President Harry Truman in 1949, prohibits aircraft from flying below 4,000 feet over the area.
Photographically speaking, what do the Boundary Waters have that other places don’t?
My brother and I shared a bedroom in Chicagoland until he turned 18. I listened to his records, accidentally broke his stuff, and watched him climb out our 3rd floor window late at night, listening to his stories when he returned. After he left for college, my high school teachers still called me by his name, thinking we were the same. During his first semester, I rode the train up to Milwaukee for a visit. We saw the Romantics in concert. Afterwards we hit the bars. I can still smell his dorm room: Speed Stick meets submarine sandwich.
By the time I was 17, he’d moved into a crusty apartment downtown Milwaukee, right behind the Ham N Egger. I parked my motorcycle in the alley, and slipped through the window that he kept unlocked for visitors. We ate white bread sandwiches for dinner and I climbed up to the rooftop for a smoke under the Newport billboard.
He joined the Peace Corps and left for Nepal. I started school in Madison. When he came to visit, we made a gallon of chili, drank Old Style, and got tattoos on our big toes. That Sunday night, I was the 10th caller on a radio show and won front row tickets for us to see Tom Waits in Chicago, on Halloween night. It was the perfect ending to a glorious weekend.
But we were heading different directions. I went to study in Ireland for a year, and he got engaged. Pretty soon he was married, running his own manufacturing business, and raising three boys. Meanwhile I’d become obsessed with photography and returned to Ireland to live on a bicycle. From there I moved to Chicago, rode a motorcycle to San Francisco, and joined a camel trek across the Australian Outback.
By the time I settled down in Minneapolis, my four brothers and sisters had birthed about 15 kids between them. My brother and I saw each other whenever we could. But we never really got to hang out again. At least not like we used to, with gallons of chili, cans of Old Style, and the occasional toe tattoo.
Until now that is.
I’m happy to report that we just rendezvou’d by the Canadian border, and disappeared into the wilderness for 10 days. We’re still eating chili, but the Old Style’s been replaced with lake water. And the tattoos… those things last forever.
Surprised and excited to walk into the doctor’s office and finally see the 12-page hiking story that I shot last Fall… especially the full-page opener, which is my own shadow, impersonating the shape of a hiker.
It wasn’t easy hiding the camera — or shooting with my left hand, as the other hikers looked on in disbelief at my selfie-induced frenzy. Thanks MSP for the sweet assignment. Worth the wait!
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.
I was running into West Photo to pick up supplies, something I’ve been doing almost daily since moving to Minneapolis 20 years ago. It was a warm summer afternoon, late in the workday, with rush hour traffic beginning to surge. I was downtown and needed to grab something and get back to Hallie and the girls in south Minneapolis. It was the kids’ last day of school for the year, and we were going to celebrate with ice cream.
I climbed out of my champagne minivan and walked toward the door. Distracted, I noticed a purple form out of the corner of my eye, hovering across the parking lot. I turned to look, and discovered a small person in a purple cloak, feet hidden by the cloth, gliding in a trajectory toward the same door.
Before my mind could even form the word PRINCE, he reached the door first, swung it open, smiled and said ‘Hi’ as I walked past.
‘Thanks’, I said, giggling a little as I went by, and returned the favor by opening the second door for him as he strode into the store.
Inside, everyone seemed to be panicking, and thinking the same thing: PRINCE IS HERE! Behind the counter, a salesman fumbled with a printer he was demonstrating for a beautiful young woman. Apparently she was a friend of Prince, who had come inside to pay the bill. As I waited my turn in line, Prince turned around and looked at me again, this time rolling his eyes.
I walked out excited, and wanted to share the experience. I wasn’t too interested in Facebook at the time, but figured this could be a prime opportunity to update my status. So I posted it from my car, and drove onto the freeway to meet the family. Later that day I checked my status and realized, sadly, that nobody ‘liked’ it. How stupid social media must be, I thought.
But now I’m thankful for the reminder, as I scroll to the very bottom of my Facebook page, diving back into the daily routine of June 8th, 2010: On my way to meet Hallie and the kids for ice cream on the last day of school before summer vacation, the pure joy of meeting Prince in the West Photo parking lot, him holding the door for me, and both of us saying hello.