Two photos: going wide, going deep

Two great panoramic photos that feature or include southeast Minneapolis are part of a current exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts: Wide-Eyed: Panoramic Photographs.

The first was created by a contemporary photographer, Jonathon Wells, who is also a geologist. He spent several years working on this composite of surface topography and subsurface geology. He exaggerated the vertical scale so that the image is dominated by massive layers of limestone and shale representing millions of years of sediments left behind by oceans. The teeny buildings on the surface represent a few decades of human civilization. It’s a strikingly fresh perspective.

Photo-geologic composite by Jonathon Wells

Wells flew over the Twin Cities four times and shot overlapping images on the transect (the blue line) shown below. He used a Canon 50D camera.

Image by Jonathon Wells

If I’ve figured it correctly, the cross-section intersects the Mississippi River valley in Minneapolis just downstream of the Washington Avenue bridge.

Wells had to drive to southeastern Minnesota and Wisconsin to find good exposures of the same kinds of rock that lie beneath our city. He estimates that he took about 350 photos altogether.

After all the driving and flying came the computer wizardry of blending hundreds of photos into one artistic image. In all, the project took several years. Wells describes himself as both a patient person and perfectionist, and he wonders whether other people might consider him a little crazy as well. I don’t. Accomplishing such a fresh view of the world takes time (and in this case, plenty of skill, a digital camera and sophisticated computer software).

I mentioned that there were two photos. The photographer who took the second panorama on display at the MIA also possessed great skill, but after that, everything was different. Benjamin Franklin Upton moved from Maine to my neighborhood in 1856, which at the time was the pioneer town of St. Anthony. He had started his career as a daguerreotypist, a trickier word to spell than say, but it was just an early form of photography.

The panorama at the art institute is titled, St. Anthony and Minneapolis from the Roof of the Winslow House. It’s comprised of eight images taken with an 8 x 10 view camera, a large format camera that offers high resolution. I think of famous landscape photographers like Ansel Adams when I think of large format.

Upton’s subject was his new home. The Winslow House stood at the top of the river bluff near today’s 2nd Street SE and Central Avenue. Here is one of the eight images:

Benjamin Franklin Upton photo, Minneapolis Institute of Arts Collection

Upton was married and had a family, but it sounds as though he lived like a wandering minstrel. He traveled by wagon, which also served as gallery, occasional living quarters and storage locker for his equipment.

When he and his family left Minnesota for Florida about twenty years later, he continued to take photos, traveling by boat, railroad handcar and bicycle to get the right shot.

The exhibit at the MIA will be up until late January. I recommend it.

I found information about Benjamin Franklin Upton in a book called Pioneer Photographers From the Mississippi to the Continental Divide by Peter E. Palmquist. And I’d like to thank Jonathon Wells for answering my questions and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for permission to use a photo from its collection.


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