Gotta Catch ‘Em All
What Am I Doing?
I have a photography/adventure project involving all of the Minnesota State Parks and Recreation Areas. Let’s catch you up.
Lake Louise State Park played host to large groups of rambunctious pre-teens for our Cub Scout Fall Jamboree. Or whatever it was called. In elementary school we visited Historic Forestville/Mystery Cave on a field trip. After college I met up with a friend to walk around Whitewater State Park. From childhood to adulthood that was the extent of my State Park experience.
What am I getting at you ask?
I didn’t really discover the breadth of the Minnesota State Park system until I moved to Minneapolis in 2012. It was the middle of winter and at a point in my life where I had forgotten how to get outside. Fort Snelling State Park was hosting some outdoor programs on tapping maple trees and making tea from stinging nettle, so I went out.
Proximity and a readiness to receive adventures propelled me out that day. Experiencing something new and adult learning (I forgot that I liked learning?) stirred up feelings. I stewed on this until one night, an idea kept me up. I flicked on a lamp and wrote for hours, dreams and schemes pouring out.
Get to the point man
Over the last six years, I have alluded to a wild plan that has yet to come to fruition. Broad in spectrum and loosely planned, those jotted notes bore both an excuse for continued wandering and a fine art career jump-start. I needed time and money. I made preparatory trips, took photos, applied for grants, held my breath.
The idea was this. I would travel to every Minnesota State Park and Recreation Area within one year. I’d do something like create a website with a review of every park. There would be many photos and they would be inspiring. Here is the actual first attempt that I sent along with that first grant proposal. The people would flock to the wilderness. There would be books, a traveling art show. I would rule the world!
My grant results came in as almost the worst submission of the year. It was really hard to listen to the audio recording of the judging:
“The plan I think, is a little large…that’s a huge undertaking. The work that we’re seeing here, submitted, doesn’t infuse me with a confidence that he’s got the ability to pull that off. The style was kinda loose, I didn’t see a rough cohesive style to the work.”
“And in terms of merit and feasibility of the plan it’s because he’s really ambitious with lots of components and too many, maybe, layers to the public part of it.”
“I would just add that, I would like to see just a higher level of sort of challenge, maybe to the viewer even, of these photos. Because i mean a lot of people want to photograph the state parks for this grant and what would you know, I would expect to see something that would open up some sort of dialogue about the parks rather than just them being beautiful or there, existing you know, but something on a deeper level to think about as we look at the photos.”
“There’s technical issues to be tackled as well in terms of the artistry and mastery of photography as well.”
“And something that might shed light on the sensibility of the artist whose making the photos.”
The winds of change were felt leading up to 2020.
For the first time, the pieces can now fall into place. I have a schedule that is open enough to accommodate a grueling pace. My ambition is not yet so drained that I wouldn’t consider trying. Over the years I’ve acquired the gear I had sought funding for in that initial grant. I have saved enough that even if I fail, I am not lost. Maybe.
“Be too dumb to quit and too stubborn to back off.” – Steven Pressfield
So here I am, being too dumb to quit. I’ve said no to a seasonal gig with the Census Bureau in Alaska. I’m opting not to apply to volunteer on a research vessel in the Atlantic Ocean. Small gigs with friends that I would normally fill my calendar with I am not filling my calendar with. Fun things like a weekend in Wisconsin skiing or two weeks in Virginia climbing slip through my fingers because I need to sit on my computer and type blog posts.
“Sacrifice some years to set up your life. Don’t sacrifice your life to set up a few years. Read that again.” – Jared Anderson
Very exciting. So tell us more about this project?
The all encompassing name of the project is the, ‘Minnesota State Parks Passport and Hiking Club Programs Project.’
I hope that name evolves. It is based around two passport-style programs that the Minnesota parks have. One is simply a passport that upon arrival, you get a stamp for each park you visit. When you get to 25 parks, you receive a free night of camping. When you complete the book, you get another one.
The Hiking Club operates in a similar manner. Each park has a designated trail that is part of the program. What you do is take off on a bit of adventure and approximately halfway through the trail, or at the end, or some mysterious place along the way, you will find a password. This is what you enter into your Hiking Club book and receive free nights of camping in the same manner and a patch every 25 miles.
Both programs, upon finishing, end with plaques. Since this idea I have been to a handful and accrued some street cred. In the spirit of doing everything in 2020 I will tackle them all over again.
I have more questions…
I might have answers for you.
This project, as alluded to by the judges of grants past, is quite an undertaking. I couldn’t explain everything about it in one blog post because it is not planned down to every minute detail. When will I visit Zippel Bay State Park? I don’t know. Will I be stopping in your town on the way somewhere? Couldn’t tell you. But here are a few things that might come up.
How will you pay for this?
Very good question. As it stands, I am paying out of pocket. I have saved my pennies from wedding photography and Santa last year to fund this project as much as I can. Living at home with my parents, having a car that is old and paid off makes expenses cheaper. While traveling I almost exclusively live out of my car and eat tuna tortilla’s to keep food bills down. This way, even should I fail financially I should not be putting myself too deeply into debt to make the project happen. A calculated risk you might say.
Additionally, as I progress through the project and discover the state more deeply, I shall continue to apply for grants for project funding. I will continue to reach out to brands to help share the equipment I use. I currently have affiliate programs with Minnesota companies Faribault Woolen Mill, Enlightened Equipment, and Vasque. Two of them I have used for years and love, one is new to me and I will be reviewing their equipment as we go. Every purchase a reader makes through one of my links will result in a small payment to me, WITHOUT adding any additional costs to the reader. The links in this paragraph are examples of those. I believe some of the brands even include special deals and offers that are only available through affiliate sales. Read more about my affiliate disclosure here.
In lieu of a formal grant, I have picked an image to represent this project, and have done a small run of ten, 11” x 14”, canvas wrapped images. This image was voted on by my FB peers as the far and a way most popular image I posted. These ten images represent the fuel costs for a year’s worth of driving around the State of Minnesota, and will be available until sold out. As of this writing, only 5 of the 10 are still available. They are $200, sales tax included.
And last but not least, I have print photos for sale available on this fancy thing called a website! I just uploaded some more today from my home base region near Grand Meadow, MN. They look better on a big screen so if you can get to a computer check these out!
What do you hope to achieve?
SO MANY THINGS! First of all, this is my first true project idea to create art for myself and others. The parameters are large and it will be a learning process in how to slim that down purposefully. A friend today told me about creating a ‘Purpose Sandwich’ so I will keep that vision as I go along.
It is not enough for the art work to simply be pretty. I want to share it with others in hopes to inspire them to see this wonderful state of ours. Many of us feel we have to go somewhere far like Colorado for mountains or an ocean for expansive beaches in order to feel like we’re finding adventure. I beg to differ and hope to showcase that, while also bringing it to those who would otherwise not experience it. I hope to create a program/presentation that I can take to schools, and through a network of friends who are teachers begin by presenting to classrooms of students in an attempt to get them excited about being outside. In Southeastern Minnesota schools can apply for grants through SEMAC for artist residencies & presenter grants. If you know of a school that would benefit from this let me know!
I have always been inspired by those who create artwork as a career. Historically my photography has been created on commission, for weddings, portraits, etc. That has paid the bills and while wonderful, it is not the work I would put on my own walls. Throughout the project, artwork will be created that will move me and others. As a financial goal, I wish to create enough powerful, local imagery that I can make a consistent income from that work.
If you have any other questions, I would love to hear what they are.
The Next Step
The next step is to get out on the road. Already this winter I took a trip up the North Shore to begin the work and get some winter imagery. You can find their stories here on this list. In order to follow along I would encourage you to join the mailing list for updates on what has happened and what upcoming plans are.
In closing, I leave you with a quote. I turned 34 this year, and as an artist and photographer I have begun to feel stagnant. I found a rhythm and pattern of employment that has worked, but I miss that feeling of growth and forward progress. There needs to be more than providing a service for a smaller, select group of people. Too much in the world needs to be addressed, seen and shared. I am to do that. I look forward to having you join me along the way.
“There’s an old secret to working out. Once you are able to lift a certain amount of weight, the work has just begun. You have to keep adding more and more weight to continue to develop. Otherwise, you will plateau. Developing your own challenges is the perfect way to push your creative limits and develop your artistic strength. Throw yourself into the deep end and see if you can swim. You never know just how far you can go.”
List of Minnesota State Parks and Recreation Areas
Afton State Park
Banning State Park
Bear Head Lake State Park
Beaver Creek Valley State Park
Big Bog State Recreation Area
Big Stone Lake State Park
Blue Mounds State Park
Buffalo River State Park
Camden State Park
Carley State Park
Cascade River State Park
Charles A. Lindbergh State Park
Crow Wing State Park
Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area
Father Hennepin State Park
Flandrau State Park
Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park
Fort Ridgely State Park
Fort Snelling State Park
Franz Jevne State Park
Frontenac State Park
Garden Island State Recreation Area
George H. Crosby Manitou State Park
Glacial Lakes State Park
Glendalough State Park
Gooseberry Falls State Park – Winter
Grand Portage State Park
Great River Bluffs State Park
Greenleaf Lake State Recreation Area
Hayes Lake State Park
Hill-Annex Mine State Park
Interstate State Park
Iron Range Off-Highway Vehicle State Recreation Area
Itasca State Park
Jay Cooke State Park – Winter
John A. Latsch State Park
Judge C. R. Magney State Park
Kilen Woods State Park
La Salle Lake State Recreation Area
Lac qui Parle State Park
Lake Bemidji State Park
Lake Bronson State Park
Lake Carlos State Park
Lake Louise State Park
Lake Maria State Park
Lake Shetek State Park
Lake Vermilion State Park
Maplewood State Park
McCarthy Beach State Park
Mille Lacs Kathio State Park
Minneopa State Park
Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area
Monson Lake State Park
Moose Lake State Park
Myre-Big Island State Park
Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park
Old Mill State Park
Red River State Recreation Area
Rice Lake State Park
St. Croix Islands State Recreation Area
St. Croix State Park
Sakatah Lake State Park
Savanna Portage State Park
Scenic State Park
Schoolcraft State Park
Sibley State Park
Soudan Underground Mine State Park
Split Rock Creek State Park
Split Rock Lighthouse State Park – Winter
Temperance River State Park
Tettegouche State Park – Winter
Upper Sioux Agency State Park
Whitewater State Park
Wild River State Park
William O’Brien State Park
Zippel Bay State Park