This is a photo I took when I was in grade school at St Monica’s in Milwaukee. It was the 1970s and every boy was expected to put some time into being an alter boy. No girls were allowed at this time to fill that duty.
It was interesting to be a part of what happened behind the scenes at mass. I am sure there were many girls who were really curious about what went on back there.
This photo was taken from a hallway through a window that looked onto the alter.
This is one of my earliest images taken sometime in 1970. I had just discovered photography and was using our family’s Kodak Instamatic camera. I took it around the neighborhood and to (grade)school capturing ordinary moments that most people don’t record.
This was shot from the second floor of David Thornquist’s house – my best friend.
I think I developed the film myself.
By now most savvy social media users know that the selfie is not new. What is new is how they are made with new portable technology and how they are seen instantly by so many friends and strangers. The digital age selfie is defined by the capturing device generally being held a little overhead and the inclusion of the raised arm in the shot. Often multiple people are included.
As I stated, the selfie as a form of portraiture isn’t knew. It used to be referred to as a self portrait. Artists and photographers alike often made self portraits. Most famous painters throughout art history made them. Self portraits have been made by artists in the earliest of times but it wasn’t until the 15th century that artists can be frequently identified as depicting themselves as the main subject or characters in the work. Portrait of a Man in a Turban by Jan van Eyck of 1433 may well be the earliest known panel self-portrait.
There are many famous self portraits thought history including Vincent van Gough, Edward Hopper and Chuck Close to name just a few. Every artist at sometime in their career makes a few. It is a regular art school activity.
About My Selfie
At age twelve when I first started photographing with a Kodak Instamatic using my own film, the first thing I did was to take a self portrait. An early selfie, if you will. I have made many since then, however I believe this image is my first one.
I have been challenged by my good friend and dance photographer Ellen Crane to a Facebook 5 day B&W challenge. I am going to take the next 5 days and post images from when I started taking pictures (age 12) and progress through my career to the present. Five images will not scratch the surface of my long involvement with silver halides and pixels so I picked a few that have meaning to me. I hope you like them.
Day one – A stained-glass window at St Monica’s Church in Milwaukee Wisconsin. I went to school at St Monica’s from first through eighth grade. I was introduced to photography in sixth grade. In sixth grade we had elective activities in the afternoon. One of the choices was photography taught by our science teacher Sr Frances. I started with a Kodak Instamatic, went to making pinhole cameras and then bought a 35mm Mamiya Sekor 500DTL. I have always been fascinated by stained glass. I took this morbid little image in 7th grade. After all these years it is still one of my favorite images that I have taken.
If I were in high school today I don’t know with what tribe I would be associated. Geek? Nerd? One of the bullied? We didn’t have the current set of labels there are now, so hence, not many tribes to choose from. In our local colloquial lexicon there were Jocks, Preps, Greasers, or the general nondescript. It doesn’t look like it but my look somewhat blended in with the times. Hair was ugly and fashions either very specific or deconstructed. I think I was in the hazy gray of nondescript. No real way to describe except through behavior.
I was a high school newspaper photographer. Through my camera lens I was able to float between the different groups at my school. I was pretty much accepted as the guy with the camera. And when my pictures appeared in the school newspaper, I got more attention and to some degree acceptance.
I discovered art photographers pretty early. There were photo magazines available on the newsstands that even a minor could buy that all sort of adult, intellectual photo content – from nudes to social commentary. These magazines influenced me more than anything. They got me out of pubescent malaise and showed me a larger world of photography, art and thought.
The idea of a self portrait was not new to me, I learned about them in art class. But making one with a camera was new ground. Even in the 1970s, photography was not universally accepted as fine art. Despite all the art being created by photographers at the time it was tough time sledding for art photographers. Self portraits were a genre that would be in a controversial area. After all, isn’t all art (and photography) in the end a self portrait?
When I took this photo of myself I had already done a lot of self portrait drawings in my art class. My art teachers were cautiously supportive of my photography interest. It was an emotional and painful time in my teen years. I was in the prime time of discovering myself, unsure of myself, doubted my artistic integrity.
I took this picture as an experiment. But as a lot of experiments in art they become and insight or statement. I think the pathos of this self portrait captures the stoic countenance of a callow teen on the way to the long road of self discovery.
About this Image
At the time I co-owned a Twin Lens Reflex camera with a close fiend. I used lager film and had a built-in self timer, so I could take pictures in private.
I used Tri-X film.
Having a studio in downtown Minneapolis during the 90s sure had it’s historic moments. My studio at the time was in the Butler North building, 1/2 block away from the Target Center (it was being built during my first year in that studio). There was a lot of urban development going on between new buildings and remodeled older ones. One of the big changes was a so-called blighted block (Block E) was slated to be razed and re-developed. It took almost a decade to get it even razed. Then development took another good part of a decade. There was an historic theater on that block, The Shubert Theater.
The theater was moved from it’s spot on Block E to the next block north on Hennepin Ave. The story of the theater and how it was moved can be found here. Another earlier view of the Shubert from my first studio can be found here.
I had moved out of my studio when the Shubert was moved but I was downtown a lot for business and my daughter’s ballet classes at Minnesota Dance Theater. I got to capture this shot of my daughter with the Shubert in the process of being prepared for what turned out to be the first relocation of a building of this size in history.
In the early 1980s I had a photo studio on Glenwood Ave in downtown Minneapolis. My studio was situated halfway between First Avenue (the street and night club) and the Punk Rock night club Goofy’s Upper Deck (2nd floor above the Market BBQ). Being so close to Goofy’s and the Market BBQ I went to a lot of shows and ate a lot of BBQ.
I never considered myself a rock band photographer. Never the less, I frequently brought my camera to shows at Goofy’s. I enjoyed photographing the attending crowd more than shooting the band. Most of the time I had no idea who was in front of my camera. It’s all kind of fuzzy. And shooting slam dancing was a real combat situation sometimes! I wouldn’t know who I got until I developed the film.
Follow up with people I photographed was dicey. No social media or websites meant getting images to people depended on if I ever saw them again. Sometimes people would block the camera with their hand, so I would not take their photo. I respected that gesture. I did not need that kind of problem. Most of the time people I pointed my camera at during these shows were happy to be photographed.
These images are from a Husker Du show … I don’t know what year. It must have been before or after 1983. Again, it’s all kind of fuzzy. And, of course, no meta data on film.
I have more from Goofy’s and other clubs. I plan to post them in the future.
If anyone recognizes who is in any photos I post, feel free to let me know who they are.
Glenwood Avenue in Minneapolis hosted my first professional studio. The building’s number was 14 ½, which sounds magical nowadays, and was nestled on a corner of downtown that boasted storefronts whose vibrant history had faded long before I took up residence. My studio was on the second floor in the middle of the block. The first floor storefronts were only ever partially rented, with a Chinese restaurant, a massage parlor (Hanako’s Sauna) and a hat shop. The rest of the stores were vacant, and the block looked a bit blighted. However, from my studio window one could see a bustling corner of the city. This view is and was the South West corner of Block E, at First Avenue and Seventh Street. On the right side of this photo is the Schubert Theater which has now been moved to Hennepin Avenue. Other than the First Avenue night club (not in the photo), none of the buildings exist anymore. They were razed to build the Target Arena and kick off the development of Block E.
This image was made early in my photo career and as a business owner. A lot of people I knew were starting businesses at the same time and often we would help each other by lending our skills to build our businesses. Sometimes I would do something for no fee if the result seemed worth it.
Mike Olson is a composer who was one of these new start-ups in the creative industry. He came to me with a great idea and something few people have: access to an unusual place to shoot. In this case a power plant on the Mississippi River in St. Paul. It was a simple shoot to execute but access to the location made the resulting image so compelling. It’s worth pointing out that this photo was done before photoshop was around. Because of the type of lighting I used it seems like it could have been composited using a computer. It was entirely done on location and in camera.
This was Mike’s first effort as art director. This photo was used on a poster for one of his performances.