It's not just the photograph that I'm after. It's also the experience of spending a day of my life (or longer) in one particular place on earth, getting to know everything about it: The feel of the wind, the sound of the waves, and the smell of the land. Afterward, the photograph becomes a record of a day well spent, and a reminder to me of that unique spot, unlike any other. If I'm lucky, I'll return years later to re-photograph, and catch up on what's changed over time in that place, creating a new photograph in the process.
In the summer of 2017, I returned to Grand Marais, Minnesota, to photograph the harbor on Lake Superior. Climbing around on the breakwater, I set up my 4×5 camera and tripod on the steep rocks and began photographing in the evening. In my excitement, I bent over to grab some gear, and my glasses flew off my face and skittered across the stone. I heard a splash and knew that the glasses had sunk to the dark depths of Lake Superior. And these were my good ones, with no scratches.
Later that night, I pointed my flashlight at the bottom but couldn't see much. The water of Lake Superior is crystal clear, but I had no idea how deep it was here. I thought maybe, just maybe, I saw something. The next morning, I came back, but the soft reflection of the dawn sky made it impossible to see the bottom. Still, I had a feeling. So, at high noon I returned one last time to the spot, hung my head over the rock and peered down. And there they were, sitting on the bottom of Lake Superior, exactly where the glasses fallen in the night before.
I've lived near Lake Superior for the past 25 years, and I've only gone in once. The water is so cold that it could kill you in a matter of minutes on the wrong day. But this was summer, and I could see my glasses. So, I stripped down to swim trunks and climbed into the frigid water. It was about 5 feet deep. Using my toes, I grabbed the glasses, pulled them out, and watched the lenses fog up as they made contact with the warm air. A group of pedestrians stopped to watch and comment, wondering if I might be crazy.
The icy water took my breath away, but I decided to go back under and swim around for a few minutes while I had the chance. After 14 years of photographing this spot, I never thought for a moment that one day I'd go swimming here… in the foreground of my picture.
Location: Grand Marais, Minnesota
Photograph Date: 2017
Medium: Chromogenic Print