Minneapolis Daily Photoblog

A photo outpost on the edge of the great western prairie, Minneapolis Daily Photoblog records life in the beautiful rugged northern land of Minnesota. Minneapolis is a bustling metropolis with beautiful greenspaces, rivers and truly epic winters. This unique city was created by the railroad and lumber barons in the wild frontier leaving lots of awesomely rusty hulks and quiet wooded corridors to photograph.

Down by the River

Down by the River

Saturday I went on a mondo photo tour. Matt Armstead and I went to Theodore Wirth park to talk Nikon and take lots of pictures. Somehow I always end up with a list of expensive things I need after I talk with Matt. While we were there, Bob Kupbens called and wanted to go take pics of the riverfront. Matt couldn’t go, but I did. This is one of the first shots I took there.

There is some heavy post-processing going on with this pic. The reason for that is to emphasize the design of this image. It is very geometric, and I would love to try and paint this sometime. The group of shapes of the buildings are very rectilinear — a veritable forest of square lines. This is strongly offset by the long smooth curves of the bridge. Also, the stepping down line of the skyline re-enforces the curve and draws the eye down along the bridge. What originally caught my eye was the caissons in the river. Big yellow things in a sea of dark are very attractive.

So why did I do so much processing? I wanted to flatten the image and force the abstract shapes by increasing the saturation, vibrance and contrast. The image now feels like an Edward Hopper painting to me. Which the river front always looked like to me with the railroad corridors and early 20th century architecture.

We also went across the river to see the new Guthrie Theater building. I’ll post some pics from there later this week.

Sunday Pastoral

Sunday Pastoral

Saturday Moment of Zen

Saturday Moment of Zen

Don't Follow that Horse too Closely

Don’t Follow that Horse too Closely

It’s still funny. Every time I see this prank I laugh. You’re young, you’re bored. Go get some soap and watch the fun. It’s better than setting something on fire or tagging a building. Yes, this picture was not taken today, it’s from this summer. I said I would post a picture everyday, not necessarily take one everyday.

This fountain on the North West corner of Lake of the Isles is a drinking fountain for horses — but not today. If you manage to dart through traffic to this little fountain in the middle of the road, you’ll see a plaque on it stating that it’s a horse drinking fountain dedicated to the horses of a specific artillery regiment in World War One. Now there are no horses pulling the rich and powerful around the lake on Sunday morning, but there are still mischievous whipper-snappers running around it at night. My how times have changed and stayed the same.

I composed this image to include the lake and surrounding elements to show that it is in a park with an idyllic setting to contrast the sudsy subject. The angle to the sun was used to give dimension to the fountain and the soap bubbles. The bubbles were really hard to get a shadow on, they came out as just white blobs until I got the exposure down far enough. I really don’t like dead-centered subjects (just ask my dad). But I centered this one intentionally. A centered subject is very static, which can be boring. Having the subject off-center, ideally on a third line, gives the image a dynamic quality, moving the viewer’s eye around and adding interest. By centering the fountain, I was contrasting a calming composition with the humorous subject matter of the soap bubbles.

So grab that camera! Get out there and have some fun taking some pictures! If that doesn’t do it for you, bring a box of soap.

Rule Number 18, Limber Up

Rule Number 18, Limber Up

It’s the first of November and it’s time for these web-footed holiday dinners to get ready for the big trip. I’ve been observing the canucks training since August, seeing small vees chugging across the city, but now they are forming bigger groups. I watched a thirty-something-goose-flock strafe Lake Street on my way home from Caribou yesterday. If you watch them this time of year, you can see that they are going slow and working to stay in formation.

When I head South myself for Thanksgiving to Kenosha, I see several hundred-plus-goose formations on the wing, so they have a few weeks to go.

In the mean time, they will be slickering up the trails and hissing at me. OK, I go asking for it, can’t help myself, how often can you get a bird mad at you? Don’t try this at home though, they can be pretty tough, those big wings can give you a good beating if they grab you. When I was in high school, a teacher’s adult golden retriever chased the geese and they turned on him — and killed the dog. So don’t mess with the geese.

So what’s the deal with Minnesotans and “gray duck”? Over in Wisconsin when I grew up it is was duck, duck, goose. Seems that Iowans are gray-duckers too.

Intermodal Shipping Containers & A Near Death Experience

Intermodal Shipping Containers & A Near Death Experience

I have an unusual interest in intermodal shipping containers. A couple of years ago I started noticing these colorful boxes full of earthly delights. They are really an amazing concept when you stop to think about it: load them up in China, put them on a massive ship that’s in port only 24 hours, send them around the world, load them straight to a train, unload and then use as a warehouse for as long as needed and unload them once. Have you wondered why there are no large warehouses anymore? Yep, that’s why. Having grown up looking over the deep-sea port of Kenosha, I used to watch them unload ships for days. Longshoremen (who made $22/hour in the ’70s) loaded items by hand into seven-story deep ship holds. These ISO containers changed all of that.

As usual, when I make realizations like this I end up spending inordinate amounts of time thinking about it and then go risk my life for no reason.

The picture above was taken in the Union Yard in St. Paul. I wasn’t actually in the yard itself, I was on the miles of parallel track leading into the yard from the North. After shooting the massive Bungee grain elevator (elevators revolutionized the grain commodities market early in the 20th century, but that’s another article), I started walking the length of a parked train of TTX well cars. I walked in the snow for quite a while looking at the neighborhood and the graffiti. Then I came upon the image above. I shot over the parked empty TTX cars at a loaded double stack on the far side. I constructed an abstract image which, if I may say, came out pretty well. The contrast of saturated colors and detailed subjects is something I have been working on for a long time and the picture of Sarah at the State Fair Grounds is along the same idea.

After the shot, I decided that I could get a better one of the containers if I didn’t have the TTX cars in front of them. So I climbed up and over them. That was a lot of work, the ‘ladder’ was bent inward under the car and there were no handles on top. It took a while and the frozen steel was painful. (Have I mentioned how cold it gets up here in Minnesota?) When I landed on the other side I wasn’t going back.

I took a few shots which didn’t work because I couldn’t get back far enough, there was only one open track between the parked trains. So I started backtracking along the empty rail. As I walked, I looked up the track and saw in the distance another train coming. I thought I might get a good engine shot, but I was now on the wrong side of the parked train — there were six empty rail lines on the other side of the parked train and I was sure it was going to pass over there, but I wasn’t going over the parked train again. So I kept walking.

Turns out I wasn’t going to miss that train.

As I walked, I realized that that train was on the same line I was on. The parked trains on both sides of me were really long. It was 15 cars to the end between me and the oncoming train and much longer the other way. I started running. I ran and ran, counting the cars to the end as I went. It’s hard to run on frozen gravel. Eleven cars to go, ten…

Then the engineer started blasting the horn at me. Six cars, five… It became clear that I wasn’t going to make it. Now, if you haven’t spent much time in rail yards, and based on my lonely experiences there, not many of you have, the rail lines are really really close together. I decided that I had to do something, and climbing wasn’t a good idea, I could fall into the path of the oncoming train. So I jammed myself up against a hitch between the parked cars. Again, not safe, but better than standing in front of a moving train.

Amidst the blaring horn and the very angry glare of the engineer, the three BNSF EMD 60’s rumbled by and I could reach out and touch them. There was about eight inches between the trains. Time moves slowly when you are caught between trains.

Suffice to say I made it out alive and it was a nice walk back to the Jeep. The birds were singing, the snow had a lovely crunch to it, and now I had another rule to live by: don’t walk on single rails between parked trains.

Oh, another disclaimer, my friend Larry has since told me that in this post-9/11 world, walking on railroad property is a really bad idea. It seems that the good old days of railroad bulls beating hobos aren’t gone forever. So if my story has a romantic appeal to to you, stay out of rail yards and seek immediate help of a psychological nature.

Finding a Path Through the Woods

Finding a Path Through the Woods

A series that I have been contemplating is called “Finding A Path.” There is something inviting about a path in the woods and I have a few pictures so far. This composition caught my eye because of the clear horizontal color bands and the strong heavy verticals of the trunks. The bases of the trees provide the right edge of the path and are very pleasingly symmetrical.

Another project of mine that has reached a new mile marker is “Those Darn Squirrels.” I’ll write more about them soon, but for those of you who know about them, the fall series of greeting cards is printed and order forms have been sent out to most of the stores on my list. I need to rebuild the website for them before I write more. They are a lesson in persistence. I took the pictures that the cards are based on a long time ago, but the effort and creativity to find a purpose and complete it has been overwhelming.

Finding your own way on a business venture is like walking through the woods without a path. Sometimes I think that I am bushwhacking my way along, unaware that there is a path going my way, only a few feet to my side. So my advice today is, if you find your trail hard to travel, take a break and find something to climb up on and look around. A conversation with a friend or a little quiet time walking by a lake and asking yourself simple questions might point the way to a path near by.

Sunday Afternoon in the Park with Debi

Sunday Afternoon in the Park with Debi

A leisurely Sunday walk is a nice way to mark the weekend. My friend Debi and I went to Theodore Wirth Park to enjoy the fall colors and take some pictures. The mighty oaks in this hill-top part of the park provide an autumnal setting for this picture. As I finished trying some classic straight-up-the-trunk shots of the trees, I looked over and Debi was standing in a pool of light, framed by this oak. Sure enough, the best shots just offer themselves up unannounced.

There are actually two frames around her, the trees behind her and the big oak reaching its long limb over the whole image and its shadow. Speaking of shadows, it wasn’t until I started studying oil painting with Joe Paquet that I started actually seeing shadows. It’s amazing how much information about form comes to us from shadows. We automatically know the shape the shadow should be, and then interpret the curvature of the ground from the shape of the shadow.

Always a snappy dresser, Debi was wearing a big wool sweater, the kind that seems to say “Yah sure, its cold, but at least I get to wear this fuzzy sweater, ya know.” FYI: Though from Iowa, Debi can affect a truly impressive Minnesota accent.

We ended our walk strolling through the Eloise Butler Wildflower Sanctuary. It’s a nice little spot hidden in the park area. I drove past the sign for years, but only visited for the first time earlier this year. They have a cute little cabin for a visitor center and some nice little trails. But yesterday was the last day of the season, so you’ll have to wait until April (yeah, that’s six months away).

So let the season of fuzzy sweaters, cross country skiing, building snowmen and warming up by the fire while drinking hot cocoa with the little marshmallows in it begin!

Harmony & Community

Harmony & Community

This morning’s picture is from one of my favorite views of Lake of the Isles. It’s called Evergreen Point (things you learn reading the really-local weekly papers). As the first signs of fall colors brush across the island, a unique compositional quality makes an appearance — harmony. The reflected three now-bare trees and the contrail form a harmonious pattern that unifies the image. Like a musical chord, harmonious elements work together in an image.

Speaking of music, I’m writing today’s post from my favorite morning coffee shop, the Caribou on Lake & 100. Today is their first anniversary and sure enough, they’re throwing a party today from 4-6pm. My Sunday-morning baristas Carmen and Rohit inform me that they will have live music (Carmen’s daughter and husband), door prizes (including cool plush rainforest frogs), treats, fun for the kids and the best part: the Caribou Mascot! The Lake and Excelsior Caribou had their customer appreciation party a week ago and I got a mug, $4 card and my picture with the Bou! Maybe it’s the caffeine talking, but a coffee party is rolicking good fun.

I’ll be back for the party, but I better take it easy on the caffeine today, I’m already shivering, though that might be the 33° Minnesota morning taking it’s toll.

Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron strigosus)

Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron strigosus)

Behold the humble Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron strigosus). So often you’ve strode past, never giving this wild flower (weed) a second glance. With the power of on-the-fly macro photography, we can enjoy the infinite precision of the Fibonacci series on the face of this little half-inch wide flower, along with the errant dandelion fluff.