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The Lone Lamp

The Lone Lamp

The little lamp quietly stands guard, watching over the river. His best friend, the manhole cover, interrupts himself a moment to talk about the photographer on the bridge above.

The lamp, unable to look up, takes the cover’s word for it, he gave up arguing about the bridge long ago.

“A stone road in the sky?”, once said the lamp, “the road is right down there by you.”

“Why would I make that up?”, asked the manhole cover.

“You make up a lot of things, in fact, you could take a breath between stories once in a while.”

The lamp was a recent arrival to the West bank neighborhood and wished he could talk to someone else besides the chatty manhole cover, but lamps lead a quite and solitary life, never getting to talk to their own kind, the victims of civil engineers’ even spacing.

Tragically, what the lamp did not know, was that the manhole cover used to be quiet and thoughtful as well, but a few days before the lamp moved in, one sunny day in June, a mounted policeman walked over the manhole cover and the horse did something truly horrible. Ever since then, the manhole cover talked nervously all the time, telling the lamp story after story, but never discussed horses.

Someday he’ll tell the lamp the story that really matters, but until then, the lamp his dejected head hanging, longs for a fellow lamp’s enlightened voice, listens to rambling stories of roads in the sky.

Many Thanks

Many Thanks

On this thanksgiving I’d like to take a moment to be thankful for all that this  blog has given me. I’ve met a lot of great people and have even gone on photo trips with a few. I’ve pushed my photography way beyond anywhere that I’d expect. The relentless daily consumption of photos by this blog has forced me to look at everything differently. I would have walked right past this sad little stick in the past, but now I know how to give it it’s day.

A good artist will tell you it’s about learning to see; that has always been the case in all the mediums that I have studied. But photography is the only one that allows me the freedom to not only capture the moment it, but also to let it go. My painter friends spend days and months on an image, but this daily blog forces an attention that I’ve never experienced before.

I have so much more to be thankful for, but this one I wanted to share with you, the readers of this little experiment without whom I would have given up long ago. And long ago indeed, I blew right past my one year anniversary without a single mention of it and the 400th photo was Tuesday. Thanks to your comments and encouragement, I keep going and looking for more moments to capture. And unfortunately more friggin’ gear.

Here’s something those of us in the States can be thankful for:

Just one more…
Thank George Lucas and his followers for the endless entertainment! Oh, and my friend Paul for sharing this one with me! This guy is an alpha geek and incredible…

Foshay Observation Deck

Foshay Observation Deck

Werner bracing for a slow exposure 32 stories over Minneapolis on the Foshay Observation Deck.

Last weekend I ventured on a Minneapolis Photo safari with Diane, Werner and Rob. Diane was the one that came up with the location — the observation deck of the 447 foot-tall 1929 Foshay Tower. The tower has an interesting history. It was completed just months before the 1929 stock market crash and had (according to Wikipedia) a fantastic dedication ceremony:

Foshay invited 25,000 guests to the dedication ceremony and provided all-expenses paid trips to many who included cabinet members, senators and congressmen. Half nude dancers entertained. Each guest received a gold pocket watch. The military gave 19-gun salutes. John Philip Sousa conducted music, including “Foshay Tower-Washington Memorial March” a march he wrote for the occasion. Foshay presented Sousa with a check for US$20,000.

But Sousa’s check bounced and soon after the building went to the creditors and poor Wilbur Foshay landed in jail and never was able to live in the apartment he built for himself on the 28th and 29th floors.


The tower held the record until the IDS Center was built in the 1970s. It eventually fell into disrepair and it disappeared from the public consciousness as other buildings surrounded it and hid it from view.


In 2006 it was purchased by local investors and everyone but Keys Cafe moved out as the building was converted into a W Hotel. On August 13th of 2008 the W opened with a museum on the 30th floor that leads to the 32nd floor observation deck.

Early Morning Duck Adventures

Early Morning Duck Adventures

This is Eloise. Eloise spends her mornings on Cedar Lake, but after the ducklings have gone to school, she joins her girlfriends to go dabbling on Minnehaha Creek. She’s not interested in popular entertainment or the latest fashions, but mention one of her ducklings and she’ll quack your ear off (she’s got a stack of photos of them in her pocketbook).

This particular morning Eloise was heading out to the PDA (parent duckling assn). Since she was planning on taking a stand against the geese hanging out on in the schoolyard, she was all dressed up and ready for the spotlight. To get over the jitters of the expected media, she had me take some candid photos before she left the lake.

“Normally we just ignore the Geese”, said Eloise, “sure they sleep in the park and honk at all hours, we’ve come to accept that over the years.” The problem started earlier this year with the unexpected closing of the pool hall down the street. “They used to wake up early and just leave”, she said, “But now they stumble out of the park around noon — someone is giving them hard cider.” The biggest problem is that they hang out in the duckling schoolyard and hiss at the kids. “My little joey is having nightmares”, she said.

Though rumors abound, including the hint that someone has called the Minneapolis Food Shelf, hopefully cooler heads will prevail.

Bridge Workers

Bridge Workers

Ever get the feeling someone’s watching you? This construction worker at the 35W St. Anthony Bridge construction site takes a moment to check out the crowds watching him. I have a hard time typing when someone is watching me, I can’t imagine working with power tools in the wind 150 feet over the Mississippi River.

What a job! Look at all the cool gear these guys have. Just to the left of the red thing in the bottom left is a patch of gray — that’s the bridge, everything else scaffolding and gear.

Look at all this guy is wearing: a harness, knee pads, gobs of safety gear and a huge tool belt (check out the hammer). For those of us who earn their salt slingin’ bits, a real job like this is pretty impressive.

Fruit from the Ball Bering Tree

Fruit from the Ball Bering Tree

Fruit from the Ball Bering Tree or Wide-angle vs. Wide-angle.

I went to the Minnesota Arboretum this Sunday with Matt, Bob and Rob (Mitch, Matt, Bob & Rob ha!). We had a great time enjoying the beginning of the Minnesota summer: a wonderful thing. We are all suffering from LAS (lens acquisition syndrome) and make a good set, 2 Nikon, 2 Canon. It was like two beer drinkers and two winos out for a night on the town without any sober buzz-killers around. In fact, there were cameras all over the arboretum that Sunday morning — like regulars at the hottest club in town. One couple we saw had more gear than us, but were rude in an odd way; the heavy-drinking jerks of the night. So, like any good addiction bender, I eventually ended up face-down on the ground, in front of the Ball Bring Tree.

The Ball Bering Tree, as I like to call it, is a big sturdy oak with garden globes scattered around under it. When we saw it, all of us gasped and ran to it like moths to a bug-zapper. This is my favorite shot from the moment; a self-portrait in a way — you can tell it’s me by the Smokey The Bear hat. I am actually mere inches from the globe, but with my Tamron 11-18 Ultra Wide Angle lens it’s hard to tell. With the over-cast sky, plenty of light was still able to filter in between my lens and the ball, so it still worked out.

For those of you who know Matt (Ravsitar from Tips from the Top Floor) you will recognize him in his signature orange shirt on the left by the tulip field next to Bob.

So get outside, enjoy the weather and find a new perspective — you might even find yourself.

How to: Abstract Photography

How to: Abstract Photography

Behold, the majesty of the Grand Lighting Tower of the Linden Yard. Ok… so the yard is now a city dump and the lights haven’t been on since we stopped building nuclear reactors, but still, from the right angle, it’s pretty cool. There is a lot going on in this shot, and I had fun at every step:

The Composition

This is a classic pyramid composition, offset to the left to follow the Rule of Thirds. Pyramids are very common compositions in design and painting. they draw the eye in and focus it to a central point, giving depth to the image. One of the great things about photography is that you don’t have to convince the viewer that it is real. This would make a lousy painting because it is abstract to the point of being incoherent — it would be dismissed as abstract. As a photo, you know it has to be something, so you figure it out. Abstract images loose their sense of space because the geometric shapes and strong lines destroy the organic real-world cues. By finding objects with simple lines and shapes, you can compose and image in which they dominate the space.

The Technique

This was shot with my Nikon D200 and the Nikkor 70-300mm VR f/4.5-5.6. Settings: Focal length 70mm, ISO 100, Aperture F/16, Shutter 1/80 sec, no flash. I placed the camera against the tower and worked out the composition. I took several photos at different settings with different compositions.

One of the big mistakes many amateur photographers make is that they don’t look at the entire image. They center the subject and shoot. I really enjoyed how I was able to get the top left light to fill the corner. Digital photos are free: take as many as you can. Keep moving the camera around and see what you can make.

The Processing

I love Adobe Lightroom. I can change an image in so many directions quickly without damaging the file or having oodles of layers to manage. I increased: exposure, recovery, blacks, vibrance, contrast, clarity and… Cranked the tonal curve and increased the luminosity and saturation of some colors. Add in a little Lens Vignetting and it’s done!

A Qwest for Communication

A Qwest for Communication

Looming over the Minneapolis skyline, the Qwest tower’s creepy pinnacle has a cold-war chic / Wizard of Oz thing going on. Though not even close to making the list of the tallest buildings in Minneapolis, the Qwest tower has it’s place in Minneapolis mythology.

Minneapolis has one very unique geological attribute — it’s in the middle of the far North. Thus, it is safe from invasion. A lot of the cold-war infrastructure is up here, hidden in plain sight, and this baby is one of them. Also on this list are refineries, munition factories, and a lot of things I don’t think I should talk about. Relics from a recently-bygone era, but still extremely valuable.

My uncle used to work in the Qwest tower and gave me a tour one day. As a preeminent technophile, I loved seeing the inside of this place, but it soon terrified me. The amount of equipment in this place is astounding. Most of the tower is like a dense university library, only the shelves are network racks.

This photo was designed to reflect my opinion of the place. I zoomed in on the odd pinnacle and cropped it in a way to emphasize the geometric simplicity of it. I blew out the sky and emphasized the contrast of the building to make it as stark and edgy as possible. Like a dragon poking it’s horns over the treetops: sizing up the villagers below. Maybe I should bring a sacrificial goat and leave it in the lobby today.

Antarctica Expedition Update

Antarctica Expedition Update

Another beautiful April day in Minneapolis

Thank you all for your outpouring of support for my upcoming expedition to Antarctica to photograph radioactive glow-in-the-dark bunnies. If you haven’t figure it out until now, please don’t hate me — it was an April Fool’s hoax. Though I have to say, after all the encouragement and great comments, I may have to go anyhow! In fact, I think a few people are getting ready to send me there in a crate after they realized that it was a hoax.

I had a great time writing and learning about the Antarctic. It would be amazing to go there, I think imagining going there helped me write it. My original idea was to just claim to be going to Antarctica for the summer, since I have been complaining about the cold up here for four months. But my friend Karen said that it needed an impossible twist to make it an April Fools — she came up with the glowing bunnies. Thanks go to her, and my other friends Paul, Tom and Jeff, and my sister Sharon for listening to me and providing their ideas as well. Tom told me about the BBC penguin video in yesterday’s post. Also, as far as friends go, I may have lost a few over this. I might have to buy a few lunches.

All the links in the story do go to wikipedia articles and other sources that are real. McMurdo did have a nuclear reactor and it was decommissioned in 1972, but not because it had a meltdown. Earnest Shackelton sent a crew to Ross island, but he wasn’t there himself and his third mate was not Avery Chicane. I made up that name, chicane means to defeat someone through trickery or deceit; deception and Avery is a man’s name close to April. Also, Mark Buffer, the guy I “convinced it was true” was made up too, buffer is slang for the target of a con, similar to the term mark.

The traffic and number of comments were an all-time record for my site on Tuesday and it was enough to push my almost-six-month-old blog’s pageview count over 25,000. It was a great day for me; all day I laughed at the funny comments and answered calls from friends, both close and old that called to congratulate me along with several anguished relatives and clients.

My best call ever was from the Meteorologist Christine Clayburg from Fox 9 News who wanted to interview me on the air during the news Tuesday night. Unfortunately I wasn’t home when she called, but we managed to talk on Wednesday. She wanted to schedule me for next Tuesday. When I confessed that it was a hoax, she cracked up! She couldn’t wait to tell everyone in the news room. What a great sport, we talked for a while and hopefully I will be able to come up with something she can use on the air.

Also, earlier in the day, mnspeak.com linked to it, which might be how Christine found me (I forgot to ask) — thanks Aaron!

On Wednesday morning, I received an email from Sharon Schmickle, former Star Tribune reporter, now writing for Minnpost.com. She too wanted to interview me about the trip. Like Christine, when I confessed, she rolled with laughter and enjoyed it. It’s nice to know, that if I ever do decide to go to Antarctica, I have some friendly reporters to talk to. I know what you are thinking, I should have played along and got some press. But, as my dad says: Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.

Later on in the day, my friend Karen discovered something we didn’t know about earlier — someone actually made a glow-in-the-dark rabbit. Truth is stranger than fiction… here’s the article: Alba the glow-in-the-dark bunny.

Thanks again, take a moment to read the comments from the First, they are a lot of fun; the mix of people who got the joke and those who didn’t, all rolled together.

Photo Expedition to Ross Island

Photo Expedition to Ross Island

The city that I love and will miss for four months: Minneapolis.

Big News! Four-month Photo Expedition

I haven’t mentioned this until now because I didn’t want to jinx it, but my grant from the National Science Foundation was just approved Monday! This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity will be whisking me away from the Twin Cities for four months. I will be searching out and documenting some rare and unique wildlife that inhabits the shoreline near McMurdo Antarctic Research Station on Ross Island, Antarctica. The evidence I uncovered from several sources and my success as a small-animal photographer we instrumental in the grant-approval process.

McMurdo Station supplies the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station throughout the long winter (which in Southern Hemisphere is from June through September).

I am looking forward to the challenge of photographing nature’s austere beauty in this remote amazing landscape as well as the nocturnal animal that will be the focus of my work. I also have the funds to upgrade to the high-end camera gear that I could never justify before.

I will be ordering a couple of Nikon D3 cameras and a few different lenses. A few I have in mind are the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 D IF AF and the Nikon AF-S 400mm f/2.8G ED VR. If anyone has suggestions for other large-aperture lenses, let me know, low light capabilities are crucial.

I’ll be leaving Minneapolis on April 30th and flying to Christchurch, New Zealand. On May 5th I’ll be boarding the icebreaker USCGC Polar Sea for the two-week trip to McMurdo Station. During that time I hope to get some industrial photos of the working icebreaker in action.

On May 20th or there a bouts (depending on ice conditions) I will arrive at McMurdo and get prepared for my trips along the Antarctic wilderness shoreline tracking the critters that are the focus of my study. I will spend the first week checking out the site of the decommissioned nuclear power station and interviewing some of the crews working on the McMurdo-South Pole Highway. I’m sure that I can find some pretty interesting characters working there to take portraits of as well.

Then as the full Antarctic winter night begins (full darkness 24 hours a day) I can begin the pursuit of my quarry: a special drove of arctic hares that are decedents of two brought to the island by Ernest Shackleton’s third mate Avery Chicane aboard the Endurance in 1916.

As I mentioned earlier, there was a nuclear power station at McMurdo that had an unpublicized “event” in 1972 which lead to its decommission. Due to cold-war tensions at the time, this “event” was kept under wraps and was completely cleaned up before Greenpeace established World Park Base on the island in 1987.

One of the effects of this was that the arctic hares had been contaminated by the fallout. They experienced a strange mutation has had a beneficial effect on these hares; they’re bodies began manufacturing luciferin in large enough quantities to cause bioluminescence.

Normally this would pose a threat to any animal, but they have flourished. With no natural predators on the island, their luminescence does not invite attack. The eerie green light has made it easier for them to find food and apparently each other. Some have speculated that the glow has also made them more attracted to each other because the populations are growing.

Though they have been growing in number since the ‘80s, there have been almost no reported sightings for several reasons. For one, in the daylight, the glow is impossible to see — only at night is the glow visible at all. Also, since they are very shy, only a few McMurdo-South Pole Highway workers have seen them and they were reticent to report a glow-in-the-dark rabbit to their superiors. But eventually, over the years, a few of them have.

One of those men who saw them is now in Minnesota at Hazelden. I met him through a friend who was also being treated there. After extensive interviews with him and his doctors, I’m convinced of the story and was able persuade Director Mark Buffer at the National Science Foundation as well.

Now that the trip is confirmed, I can talk publicly about this. I’m still processing it all myself. I have a lot of packing and some awesome cold-weather gear to buy. REI is going to make out like a bandit, I’ll need lot of fleece, this is the biggest snow-job of my life.

It’s a absolute dream come true for me, over-wintering on the edge of the Antarctic ice shelf — truly a fool’s paradise.

Please help spread the news by clicking on any of the social bookmarks below.

Check back tomorrow for the CDPB Theme Day photo and more about Antarctica.