Archive

Photography

THE WORLD MAY LOOK BACK on the year 2016 as the best one we’ll get for awhile, the deaths of my idols and ruin of our republic notwithstanding. Ours was abundant, at least by the measure of how many photos I shot and shared. Here are a few of the blessings I’m counting in panoramic splendor (click for a big ole view).

img_0364

Sarah contemplates the Blue Ridge Mountains after narrowly escaping Hurricane Matthew

img_6461

Adventuring on the Superior Hiking Trail with Lucas

img_6160

Green Line LRT iPhone experiments on University Ave SE (an homage to Ed Ruscha)

img_8682

Downtown and South Minneapolis from atop the Witch’s Tower with Jo’s school in the foreground

img_6440

Waterfall at Temperance River State Park, a reward for a cold, wet slog in the woods

img_6329

Dangling above Minnesota’s “mountains” with ski buddies

img_0569

Drinks with Craig and Matt at Track’s Bar, St. Paul’s least-charming dive

img_0332

Next to zero visibility on the Appalachian Trail outside Hot Springs, North Carolina

img_9440

Ferrying to Washington’s San Juan Islands for a rare reunion of my dad’s five kids

img_9337

The late-night shuffle

img_0357

Porch view from our rustic Blue Ridge cabin (roving pit bulls and land yacht are cropped out)

img_7865

Exploring Peak DC on spring break with our hosts Marc and Viv

img_9009

Prospect Park Business Center in ruins before its 17-story redevelopment in 2017



photo 36IT FLOORS ME HOW LITTLE I understand history. Not capital-H History, but the personal, intimate kind. After hanging around long enough to watch people be born and die, succeed and fail, I expect previous generations to help me make sense of life, if not explicitly then by example. I’d like to know how the peculiarities of time, place and personality land us here, and why we should be proud or amazed or defensive or ashamed.

I’m not any of those. I’m just here. Wasn’t I paying attention? Are there lessons neatly folded into lives? Where’s the family cheat sheet?

After my grandfather died last year, I took a few things: his cases full of sharpshooter medals, stained glass tools, a couple of old hats and fishing rods. And suitcases full of photos. They show familiar people, but even in our small family, most I hardly knew. There’s no family business, religion, or common cause to reconcile them against. What were they like? More to the point… what am I like? The suitcases has some clues.

Above is my great-grandfather, Noel, seated and shirtless in the family cabin in Waubeek, Iowa. He worked in a small-town service station and pitched baseball, which made him kind of a big deal. When I was small, I recall Noel taking me on walks to get soft serve, or leading me to “discover” small piles of candy corn he’d placed on the side of the road, like fairy treasure.

He lived with his wife Audrey on the Wapsipinicon River into his late 90s. Sometime in the 1990s, he went for a walk on the river, fell in and died. People have suggested it probably wasn’t an accident, but for what reason that is, I don’t know.

Behind Grandpa Noel is my mom, looking pretty and bored. She’s recalled her time at Waubeek to me fondly. Other times she mentions there was yelling, hot tempers and short fuses with children. Pinochle and cocktails, it seems, were the main activities.

photo 2Noel’s wife, my great-grandmother Wheeler (I called her “Grandma Quasqui” for the town of Quasqueton where they lived) is shown here on her pony. She has a strange middle name I’ve never seen elsewhere: Serepta. There’s something about vintage Iowan women’s names of that era—Vietta, Ardell, Neone—you know aren’t due for resurgence.

Audrey married Noel at 16. In my memory, she is quiet and distant. I don’t what her hobbies or interests were. In pictures, she sits around with her family, talking and not talking, smoking and not smoking. Many years later, Sarah observed this is what my family does, chronically sits around together.

Below are two Christmas pictures, one of my mother and another of Grandma Quasqui. I don’t know what my holidays were like for my mom growing up, but these illuminate my own.

My mother has a thing about perfect Xmas trees. Her collection of hundreds of ornaments, mostly vintage, are stored with immaculate care and pulled out for display each November, a process that can take days. For many years, my sister and I were not allowed to help. This seemed proper to me until decades later, when, with a child-helper of my own, I realized how obvious it is to make them part of the action.

Here’s Grandma Quasqui, handing out presents I think. While the monochrome tree decor is nothing like ours, to me it suggests, “Christmas control freak.” My mother, in the other shot, clutches a favorite doll and strikes a beaming pose in her home in Cedar Rapids. She aims to please and expects satisfaction in return. This pretty much sums up my social philosophy.

photo 3photo 46

One more: Mom, sis, grandma and me visiting Aunt Neone (pronounced “nay-own”) and Uncle Tom Zonneville in San Diego in 1984 or 85. Tom was lazy and a complainer (cardinal sins in my grandfather’s book). I remember his snide comments and air of moral superiority (over what I’m not sure). While he was hard to like as a person, Tom was a great photographer. He documented everyone in the family for decades, including bewitching stereoscopic images of vacations and mundane get-togethers. Looking at these through the special binocular viewer, you are AT the card table in 1947 holding a Tom & Jerry.

Here I am emulating him with a camera around my neck on my only trip to DisneyLand. I don’t remember much: palm trees; a swimming pool in Neone and Tom’s upscale trailer park that did not admit children; learning to play pinochle by candle light. Whether or not it was fun I don’t remember.

photo 26

(to be continued)

IMG_0901

MY LOCAL HABITAT TURNED INHOSPITABLE OVERNIGHT with the kick off of a long-delayed kitchen renovation. The place where just last week I made toast is now a primitive, nail-strewn cave stripped of every amenity (water, stove, Nutella), accessed through an E.T.-like zippered facade. The contents of our pantry and cupboards are piled along all available walls. For the next 12 to 16 weeks we will not cook as much as warm things up. Dishes will be washed in the bathtub.

I don’t deserve pity. Remodeling pain is the bougiest gripe of all time (up there with Finding Good Help). But we are accepting dinner invitations.

Last month I rehabilitated a Polaroid Landcamera, a toy I hadn’t touched in years. While the original company is dead, off-brand peel-apart film is available on Amazon for no more than it cost in 2003.

My first rolls were mostly dark and blurry. I have to relearn how to compose carefully and shoot slow.

polar2
polar3

polar1

If there’s more mind-warping fun to be had with an iPhone than mis-use of panoramic stitching, show it to me.

14By now it’s old news that my sister had a baby. I’d say she’s doing okay with it.

photo

We’ve had a lot of family visitors lately on account of ‘Lil Charley, including my half-sister Emily, seen here with my step-nephew-if-my-sister-were-married, Frank. Step-aunts, step-grandmas and multiple half-brothers also showed up. Johanna and her quasi-cousins need to be reminded Who is He (and What Is He to You)?

IMG_0616

I’m in the middle of doing a video for my farm technology client. It involves hiring screen actors, but really only their legs. At the casting we picked five pairs from dozens of auditions, mostly ones whose shoes we liked.

IMG_0998

There wasn’t much for Johanna to do when we said Go Outside and Play, so I and some Work & Company helpers put up a trapeze. It took a ridiculous amount of effort to anchor the rope in our massive oak. Overall it’s an engineering masterpiece, though Jo has to swing carefully to avoid smacking into trees and fences.

IMG_0661

Took a field trip with Witt to the MCAD library, where you can freely paw artists books by legends like Sol Lewitt, Bruce Neumann and Ed Ruscha (though you gotta wear the Mickey gloves).

IMG_0598 IMG_0597

I topped off my Summer of Cycling with a balmy (100°+) camping ride to Afton State Park with Lucas. So wrung out were we by the heat and exertion that we barely drained our bourbon flasks. But having brought little food on account of weight, we needed the calories.

IMG_0562

In exchange for helping make a website for his bobblehead empire (Phase 2), I’ve been immortalized by sculptor Bryan Guise. It’s like he’s revealed my essential self: part Eminem, part John Cusack, part graying guy with an over-familiar stare.

1384170_10152291143341040_785646010_n

I’ve been binging on Lou Reed and V.U. (and tributes and photos) this week. Waiting for the right moment of cathartic dissolution to throw on Side B of White Light White Heat. Lou hits a deep vein.