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: MISTER NEGATIVE.

Mister 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?

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