The Last Photo

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.

A Message to You Lucy

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. 

Portrait of female college student posing on Bluff overlooking the Mississippi River

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.

Female college student shooting video homework for cinema course

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.

View of the Mississippi River valley looking south from Alma, Wisconsin

Camera on Fire

Apache Plaza, Minneapolis, 2001

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.

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.

art director’s sketch

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.

Sound familiar?

Mr. Imagination

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, Chicago, 1991. Silverprint from 35mm negative

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.

It Ends Here

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