The last photo I made of my parents, right before the pandemic. 14 months later, vaccinated, I drove home to see how they were doing. And there they were. Right where I left them.
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!
Read my story and watch the movie here.
1986: LaGrange, Illinois
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 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.
1991. Clark & Belmont, Chicago.
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.
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
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.