“Street” Portraits and Winter Diving from Black Rocks
Before COVID-19 was an everyday topic, I made a trip to a picturesque town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula called Marquette, situated on the mighty Lake Superior. Occasionally, I need to travel outside of my all-too-familiar surroundings and immerse myself in another community. It could be close or far away but these trips have, thus far, all been in Michigan. My intent is to create new content while documenting the communities I travel to; it’s a freeing experience and it flexes the creative “muscles” so I can’t recommend it enough. For this excursion, my intent was to create some portraits and also photograph the town as well as something at the famed Black Rocks in Presque Isle Park. If I was to sum up what I aim to capture in the towns I’m in, it’s to get as much of a visual sense as possible of what makes a location unique. My trips are short so I’m only able to produce a visual “drop in the bucket”, but it’s fun to try to capture as much as possible.
Marquette, MI is about four and a half hours away from where I live so it’s basically a little farther than a drive to Detroit would be. My lodging was at the Value Host Motor Inn and by the time I arrived at my modest abode, it was time to eat and sleep in order to start the day refreshed. It’s important to me to keep costs down while not eating poorly or getting bed bugs, therefore, it’s important to read reviews and do homework in order to maximize your dollar and your health.
The weather during the trip was predicted to be—uncharacteristically in winter—pure sun. Overcast days appeal to me the most, for pictures, because the clouds create the world’s largest light diffuser/softbox. This trip was to be sun though so my adjustment is to photograph early in the morning, late in the day and try to get some even light or shadow anytime else during the day.
After photographing the ore docks in the rising sun, my goal was to make a portrait. A tiny shop up the road sold hand-made jewelry and wooden works of art; also, it had incredible natural light thanks to some large windows. There was some time to walk around before the shop opened, so that allowed for some some intimate exploration of what made the neighborhood I was in unique. There were some great signs and buildings which became the subject matter of choice.
Finally, 10:00 a.m. arrived and the store I wanted to visit was to be open. In I walked and that’s where I met Emerson who was the jewelry maker/artisan of the shop. Everything came together in this moment: she was super friendly; the warm, mid-morning light was gorgeous; and she couldn’t have been more patient and accepting for a portrait. Thank you Emerson. I made some portraits of her, as well as some pictures as she was working. My working time is usually quick because I don’t want to overstay my welcome but I also want to make sure I walk out with results I’m really pleased by.
Next, there was a shop not far from Emerson’s called Sam’s Shoe Repair. The shop looked like it had many years and stories behind it so being a visual person, my mind immediately conjured images of a shoe cobblers shop with laces and shoes from floor to ceiling. Upon entering, this shop was all of that and then some more. A man, hunched over a brightly-colored boot and one incandescent bulb, was working when I said,”Hello, Sam?” “That’s my dad, I’m Louis,” was the response. I knew I had my shop. Louis was also extremely kind and was agreeable with my making some portraits of him as well as some photos of him working. Pro Tip: Before I approach anyone to make a photograph of them, there are a certain amount and size of butterflies in my stomach. When it comes down to it, I always tell myself “The worst they can say is ‘no’ and if they say yes you’ll have some great, incredible photos!” Then I do it. Don’t let voices in your head ruin your photographic opportunities. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
The sun was beginning to set on the day, so I headed to Presque Isle Park where the Black Rocks are located. Meg and I dove off them into Lake Superior, last summer, and it’s a tranquil, almost meditative, place to be. After the twenty-minute hike in, the rocks presented themselves. As I stood at the shore, I noticed floating discs of ice everywhere. A great landscape photo is hard to pass up so I captured some photos of the scene. I was about ready to head back to my car when all of a sudden some figures appeared in the distance; there was a group of guys with dry suits that were preparing to jump in to Lake Superior. I was extremely excited. My composition was set and I photographed as three of the individuals jumped in. Success.
Legs tired, I walked through downtown Marquette to capture some night photos of the city. My body was lethargic but being tired and weary can cause the brain to tell you to head back to the hotel, sip a beer and watch TV; this isn’t an option on a weekend photo trip. If you are going to rest, do it quickly and try not to miss the golden hour or blue hour (about an hour before sunrise and an hour after sunset). On these weekend photo trips, it’s all about the photos and the quality rest can come when you return home.