Beauty is where you find it — if you’re looking for it.

An abandoned truck from decades ago in the Badlands.

An abandoned truck from decades ago in the Badlands.

Have you ever noticed that negative critical people find negative things to criticize? Conversely, a person who goes looking for good, for beauty will find it – often in the same area where black-hearted people see decay and destruction.

That’s the case here in the Badlands, the Bakken Shale Play region of North America. People who do not live here are sending film crews, photographers and others here to document the destruction of the Badlands caused by the oil boom. With a predetermined point of view, a prejudice, they look for and find what is in their heart.  People with a good heart see good, see beauty.  What is in the heart of the Bakken haters?

magpie creek

One of the many oxbow bends in the Magpie Creek that feeds in to the Little Missouri River

I see the same beauty out here that I’ve always seen in my 33 years of exploring and hiking the North Dakota Badlands and Grasslands.  It’s one of the most popular galleries on my website www.mykuhls.com

Little Mo ice jam

Ice goes out on the Little Missouri River as it winds through the Badlands toward the Missouri River and Lake Sakakawea.

On this day, March 11 I drove one of my favorite roads for only about 10 miles. The Long X road extends from south of Watford City to north of Killdeer, about 30 miles of gravel – much of it “unimproved” gravel.   The ice was going out and rain was moving north of the region.  Sure signs of the exciting time called “spring.”

A month later, I found the other end of the road near Killdeer.  The road follows the Little Missouri River that flows through the epicenter of the Bakken Oil Play where there are literally thousands of oil wells extracting oil to build up America’s energy independence.   It’s even more spring-like and even more exciting.  It is beautiful, open country.

Destruction? Pollution? Damage? I don’t see it. Do you?

Muddy water from snow melt up in the hills finds its way to the Little Missouri River

North of Killdeer, muddy water from snow melt up in the hills finds its way to the Little Missouri River

You can see more of not only mine, but my hiking partner’s views at www.mykuhls.com

Bakken Boom Birth Pangs Abated

(note: I wrote this article for the news site called Bakken.com where it appeared Christmas week.  Check Bakken.com for more news and information from the Bakken region.)

Early morning steam rises from an oil rig site near New Town

Early morning steam rises from an oil rig site near New Town

The Bakken Boom is not what it used to be – it appears the region is moving past the pressure of Bakken birth pangs, the extreme pain caused by  the birth of the region’s latest oil boom.

Blue Buttes near Mandaree, ND

Blue Buttes near Mandaree, ND

After a three-day business tour of the Bakken region for Bakken.com, it’s apparent that Western North Dakota is not the peaceful wilderness ranch country of legend.  It has a buzz, it is busy, but it is business and business is great.  We found several categories in which reality falls short of the fearsome fantasies foisted on folks farther east.

Andrew

Andrew Lutz, Business Development Manager for Bakken.com

Andrew Lutz, the Bakken.com Business Development Manager and I met up in the heart of the oil country – downtown Watford City.  It’s a region I’m familiar with having lived and worked here a few years ago. Now I make regular, even monthly visits to Western North Dakota.

Dakota West Credit Union's 3-story building on the north end of Watford City's Main Street

Dakota West Credit Union’s 3-story building on the north end of Watford City’s Main Street

The center of the region’s most productive oil county is McKenzie County.  Combined with Mountrail County it represents one of the largest oil-producing regions in the world.

McKenzie County courthouse work

Workers are adding a large addition to the front of the McKenzie County Courthouse.

 Changes continue to alter Watford City. Even the Courthouse is a construction zone.

The county’s skillful and wise business leadership is steering the city in to the next era. Bakken.com will tell you about those changes in a story with Economic Development Director Gene Veeder.

On this trip, I rode with Andrew, and that gave me a rare opportunity to see the sights instead of the pilot. Though we had spoken by phone and by email, our first face-to-face meeting was at one of the most outstanding steakhouses outside of a major city, Outlaws Bar and Grille.

Outlaws Bar and Grill, Watford City is a family-oriented eatery.

Outlaws Bar and Grill, Watford City is a family oriented eatery.

It’s clean, comfortable and the cost is reasonable, just what you would expect to pay in Fargo or Bismarck.  Our first meal there was good enough the first night to bring us back the second night.  The wait staff was busy with a full dining room. By the time Andrew and I left, a line of customers waited for our table, ready to add even more urgency to the scurrying troop of table-servers.  Our young waitress the second night, appeared inexperienced and uncertain; she stumbled her way through the serving, but no fouls and no strikes.

Breakfast both days was at the long-time local landmark the Little Missouri Grille on Highway 85 on the western edge of Watford City.  Its customers for years has been area ranchers, families, travelers and tourists. These days, according to the manager, the restaurant floods with hungry men beginning the moment the doors open at 6 a.m.

One of the reasons it’s popular is its serving portions. I like a restaurant that uses the entire plate  instead of little separated and compartmentalized servings.  The Little Missouri’s portions are man-sized, and that’s what other customers we talked to said they liked about the restaurant.  Plates are full and stacked. Work crews who eat at the Little Missouri get their days started on a full stomach – and messages from home via smart phones.

A second reason for popularity is its wait staff.  Our servers on both days were busy, fast and efficient, but very personable and took time for a little small talk while taking our order, filling our coffee cups and clearing our plates.Brittany moves like a blur

Our waitress the second morning told us she moved to Watford City from Idaho to be a waitress because she heard the pay was good.

“Is it that good?” I asked her.

“Oh yes,” she smiled as she refilled my coffee.  “Much better.”

Brittany, the waitress from Idaho at the Little Missouri Grille in Watford City.

Brittany, the waitress from Idaho at the Little Missouri Grille in Watford City.

On this trip, we did not find the rudeness, lazy workers, sub-standard service or high prices we were warned about. From the Cash Wise Grocery Store to the Kum-and-Go gas station, we found service was professional and efficient.

Business owners we talked to in Watford City and New Town said their employees are keeping up with the flood of new business, but not easily.  At United Prairie in New Town, General Manager John Reese said the staff has grown in the last 10 years and that makes it tough to find adequate housing. That’s why his company is building housing for company families.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of stopping for a meal in town is getting back on the highway.  Outside of town traffic flows orderly, but in town, be prepared for an infrequent moment to enter traffic. Left turns are especially difficult.

Looking south from Watford City. Highway 85 used to be a quiet drive.  Not any more.

Looking south from Watford City. Highway 85 used to be lonely drive, but not any more.

The North Dakota Department of Transportation is widening highways, adding passing lanes and turning lanes to help alleviate traffic tie ups and make the highways safer.  Additional work is ready to begin in 2014.

With grace and common sense, it is no challenge to navigate traffic in towns such as Watford City, New Town or Williston.  Like red cells in a blood stream, an endless stream of 18-wheelers, pickup trucks and cars flow through the heart of the Bakken.  Stop lights and stop signs are the valves that slow down traffic for safety, but they add to the time required to get through the main arteries of the cities.  So, if you’re planning to drive highway 85, 200 or 2 through the Bakken, be ready for backups in town.

The North Dakota DOT is coming to the rescue of many of these smaller towns with by-pass surgery, building routes around the cities – a sign that the Bakken birth pains are abating.

Highway 85 construction halted for the winter, but will resume in 2014.

Highway 85 construction halted for the winter, but will resume in 2014.

When Andrew and I left Watford City to head to New Town, we followed a convoy of oil service trucks. The good news is the road surface is good, again a testimony to the attention the North Dakota DOT has given its highways.  Traffic moves safely, drivers are attentive and courteous.  Passing is limited on the hilly Highway 23.  Be prepared to drive trucker-speed which may mean a bit under the speed limit on up-grades.  Also, just as in town, left turns can cause a traffic tie up.  We saw no road rage evidenced by one-finger salutes or horn blasts.  Drivers kept a safe distance from the vehicle ahead of them.  Functioning brakes lights are life savers – make sure you have them and watch for them in front of you when driving in the Bakken.

Driving across McKenzie County to New Town, there is no place where you do not see at least one, if not many drilling rigs and pump jacks.  Next to the road, or off on the horizon, you can see why the Bakken is a major world player in oil production and extraction.

oil site with flaring on horizon

South and west of the Three Affiliated Tribes business office, one of the oil sites on the reservation is clearly visible, flaring natural gas in a large flame.

Our first stop on the way in to New Town was the business office of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, the Three Affiliated Tribes.  Our mission was to visit with Chairman Tex Hall.

Father Roger Syneck and Tribal ChairmanTex Hall pause during the blessing of the meal at the Elder's Christmas Party.

Father Roger Syneck and Tribal ChairmanTex Hall pause during the blessing of the meal at the Elder’s Christmas Party.

We arrived at the start of the annual Three Affiliated Tribes Elders Christmas Party.  Our timing was perfect. Chairman Hall was on the riser with the local Roman Catholic Priest giving the blessing. Elders are treated to a full meal at the Four Bears Casino Events Center, presented with gift bags and Christmas checks and serenaded by the children of the Head Start program.

Head Start children sing at the Elder's Christmas Party.

Head Start children sing at the Elder’s Christmas Party.

Members of the Three Affiliated Tribes benefit from oil activity and Chairman Hall’s pro-business philosophy.  Oil production is expanding.

New Town Transload wide shot

Railroad spur leading in to the transload facility on the east end of New Town.

new town transload

Construction continues on the transload facility on the east end of New Town.

Transload facilities in New Town and Van Hook are adding permanent income to the local economy.

News and events from the Bakken are incomplete without solid representation from the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation and the Three Affiliated Tribes. That’s why Bakken.com is working with Chairman Hall and others on Fort Berthold to tell the stories of the region.  Chairman Hall told us he is working on several issues to help his people gain even more benefit from oil production and avoid some of the challenges of the expanding industry.  Those issues including flaring and an oil refinery are issues Bakken.com follow.

The hospitality of the region is legendary and after meeting with Chairman Hall, we were warmly greeted by the Chairman and CEO of Lakeside State Bank of New Town.  Gary Peterson’s bank has grown along with the Bakken economy.  He showed us figures that Lakeside State Bank’s business is several times greater now than just a few months ago.  Larger numbers of customers and their transactions such as wire transfers means more work for his staff, but the swelling customer base is evidence the staff handles the extra work load.

After New Town, we drove to Stanley, Ray, Tioga and Williston.

Long before the current Bakken boom, the Enbridge Storage Site south of Stanley has helped move petroleum to market.

Long before the current Bakken boom, the Enbridge Storage Site south of Stanley has helped move petroleum to market.

Yes, the towns are challenged by the instant impact on infrastructure.  They’re now getting in to the pace, working with developers to meet one of the greatest needs – housing.  It’s not just the structures that must be built, but also streets, sewers, water, lights and law enforcement.  New condominiums, apartment complexes, single-family homes and RV parks seem to have popped out of the ground like toadstools on an over-watered golf green.  The housing shortage is not over, but at this stage, developers and city fathers we spoke to are watching trends to help make sure the housing shortage does not become a housing glut.  They’ve become skittish after watching the last oil bust 30 years ago.

During our drive through the Bakken region, we scanned the horizon checking out rigs, pump jacks, storage facilities and support services.  Our roadside survey found gave visual proof to recent maps and stats that indicate most of the oil activity spreads from McKenzie County east.two oil wells

As we drove west in to Sidney, Montana fewer drilling rigs and pump jacks were spotted. Sidney is home to many of the oil field services that Bakken.com works with.  Compared to Watford City and Williston, life in Sidney is more peaceful and orderly.  Though activity is further east, westward expansion is predicted.

Traffic in Sidney, MT is comparatively light compared to other cities in the Bakken region.

Traffic in Sidney, MT is comparatively light compared to other cities in the Bakken region.

Some oil field services, landmen and engineers working in the Bakken may have local offices in other cities, but they are headquartered in Sidney.  Most work from the home offices in Sidney can be done by phone or Internet– away from the intensity. It provides staff a quick access of about an hour to most of the oil activity east of Sidney while at the same time being a step removed from the congestion.  Either Highway 200 or 68 carry most of the traffic. With Andrew at the helm, we drove 68 to Sidney and Highway 200 on the return trip.  (Incidentally, Highway 200 across the Yellowstone gives travelers a look at the region’s only lift bridge – used only once.)

Lift Bridge along Highway 200 east of Sidney.

Lift Bridge along Highway 200 east of Sidney.

We found Highway 68 to be the quickest with the least traffic. Highway 200 requires drivers to negotiate hilly terrain with more truck traffic.

Finally, to those who cry the beauty of the Badlands is marred by oil exploration, I must argue.  For 20 years I’ve backpacked, camped, cross country skied and rode horses in the region.  It’s still beautiful.

Long X Bridge south of Watford City where big horn sheep roam.

Long X Bridge south of Watford City where big horn sheep roam.

Oil companies meet environmental regulations, and go even further to try to do their work without disturbing the natural habitat of elk, deer, mountain lions, and big horn sheep (which were eliminated from the region in the 1920’s but have been brought back along with the oil field activity).

As Andrew and I discovered, the beauty is still there to behold, even from the heated protection of a car.  Early morning jaunts in to the area can produce amazing images that incorporate the wells, pumps and roads of oil activity.Oil well and moon wtrmrkoil pumps and moon

The birth pangs of the Bakken Boom are giving way to a more settled way of life.    It’s not as bad as you heard out here in western North Dakota. Embellished and enhanced stories repeated by those outside the region do a dis-service to the reality of the dynamic benefits of oil.  Once again, as with power plants, coal mines and farmland, this part of America is serving the needs of the United States and the world.  North Dakota’s cultural landscape has changed much over the years. That’s why there are so many abandoned homesteads and buildings across the landscape.  The current oil activity may bring a change in culture, but what hasn’t changed in America in the last 200 years?

Sure it’s cold, but….

December's subzero temps and snow

December’s subzero temps and snow

Yeah, there’s a lotta snow out there. Yeah, there’s a minus sign in front of the temperature. That means the annual self-imposed illness called “cabin-fever” is about to set in, but only if you choose to let it.  I choose not to let it set in. That’s why I look for ways to get out of the cabin, and the annual Blue Collar Cafe art shows are one way to do it.  The first one is Thursday, December 5.

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I started getting ready for the show back in October.  I’ve found a photographic niche, nostalgic romantic images of North Dakota history.  That includes a farmstead long abandoned with an unused Ford pickup parked in the front yard.

Oliver County Farm in barn board frame I made

Oliver County Farm in barn board frame I made

Or a farmstead on the edge of a growing pothole, water lapping at the doorstep.

Sheridan County abandoned farmstead about to be overtaken by growing pothole.

Sheridan County abandoned farmstead about to be overtaken by growing pothole.

I’ve found antique cars such as this 1941 Ford Tudor Deluxe parked in a pasture in northern Burleigh County.Old Fordt wtrmrk Mike shoots old Ford

They’re part of my collection of images headed to the Blue Collar Art Show and Soiree.  The Blue Collar Cafe on Airport Road across the tracks from Krolls Kitchen hosts monthly art shows beginning in December, and I’ve been pleased and honored to be a part of the shows.  The owner, Jerod Hawk advised me to come in with larger pieces than what someone at home could print out from their computer.  So, I have. These are as large as 2’x3′ framed images.

A few images for blue collar show

Late at night I’ve worked in my wood shop, turning old barn siding in to frames for my images. The wood is from a 105 year old barn between Anamoose and Goodrich that blew down about 5 years ago.  I maintain all its color and character.  The texture, the warp and the bends in the wood makes it a challenge to create a straight and square build, but it gives each frame its unique style and color.

Selecting the right piece of wood for a frame

Selecting the right piece of wood for a frame

On many snowy winter nights, you’ll find me in my wood shop sorting and selecting the wood, matching its dimension, color and grain for both the inner frame and outer border (making it two frames, one inner and one outer)  to create as uniform appearance for each frame, yet different from every other one.1201131859

A few of the images I’m taking back to this show were quite popular at last year’s Blue Collar art shows, that includes this one of the Pettibone Brain Company. (No that’s not a typo. The private owner climbed up there after he bought the structure and turned the “g” in to a “b” to make the word “brain.”)

Pettibone "Brain" Elevator

Pettibone “Brain” Elevator

This year’s Blue Collar art shows are bigger than last year’s first shows.  The floor space is more than double from the original space and there will be twice as many artists. I’m blessed to be one of them.

Collecting North Dakota’s beauty

mykuhls tree storm

ND Tree and Storm for art show display

  I love displaying North Dakota in ways others have not seen the state.  That’s why I relish opportunities such as the Blue Collar Cafe Open House and Art Show this week.  If you attend, you’ll see North Dakota displayed several ways.  Most obviously will be the images you will see such as the tree and storm clouds pictured above.  The image of course is a prairie vista ahead of a storm, typical of a spring day in the state.  That’s North Dakota.

Surrounding the image is more North Dakota — the barn board frame. I was fortunate enough to get good solid siding from a barn that was torn down. The siding is in good shape and I use it to make frames.  It’s North Dakota.

That barn also supplied wood for the image below of a farm house in a stubble field.  I shot this near Rugby and again, North Dakotans will see something that reminds them of their state: stubble field, horizon, storm clouds and huge house sitting empty.  That’s North Dakota.

mykuhls farm house wtrmrk

Then there are a select few people who will recognize the bottom image as also being North Dakota.  Those select people are bikes.  They know the state for its  smooth roads, little traffic, wide open vistas make for great rides in the state.  It’s North Dakota.

mykuhls print bikers on hwy and skyThese three images are part of the collection of North Dakota that I’ll be displaying at the Blue Collar Cafe Art Show.  It’s a little North Dakota Internet Coffeehouse run by North Dakotans, in North Dakota’s capital city, across the street from the big North Dakota Department of Transportation district offices.

North Dakota images. North Dakota barn board. Assembled by a North Dakotan.  Shown in a North Dakota venue. Even the images themselves were produced and processed by a North Dakota lab.  The Blue Collar Cafe Open House and Art Show is Tuesday, February 12.

That’s North Dakota.

Blue Collar Black Friday Art Show

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Late nights meant burning the midnight oil — and wood — to get frames ready for the show.

What a surprising opportunity!

It’s crunch time producing exclusive handmade frames to go with matted photos for the Blue Collar Black Friday Art Show.  North Dakota barn board, North Dakota images, North Dakota art — I’m fortunate to be one-quarter of the show at the little coffee shop and cafe on the east side of Bismarck.

It’s a win-win-win.  The Blue Collar Cafe gets more traffic, four artists get more exposure and Black Friday shoppers get original handmade art at ridiculously low prices.  If the same products were in Macy’s or Daytons, they’d be hundreds of dollars.  But here, only tens of dollars.

I visited with Jerod Hawk earlier this week when the idea was kicked about.  Within an hour Hawk had lined up four artists to set up on Friday at his little coffee shop and cafe. That was Tuesday. Now here it is Thursday and we’re almost ready to throw open the doors to throngs of people who want a piece of North Dakota.

Since the idea first took hold,  I’ve been keeping the wood fires burning in my wood shop making frames.  .  As it is, I have mass-produced hand-made frames for an inventory, but not as many as I would have liked for this little show.

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The abandoned Pettibone Elevator at Lake Williams is one of my favorite pieces that will be on display at the Blue Collar Cafe art show on Friday.

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From near Rugby, this abandoned farmstead is wrapped in a barn board frame from a barn near Good Rich.

Tuesday and Wednesday I started the work of matching photos I had on hand to the frames I thought would work.  I think I went about it backwards. I first should have selected the prints, then built the frames to fit.

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Color looks good in the barn board frame from a 100-year old barn near Goodrich on the left, and in a frame from a 100-year old barn that once stood near Almont

Either way, it was crunch time. I turned my kitchen in to a matting and framing shop.  I brought in all the frames I thought would work from my wood shop.  Then I started matching prints to frames.

A couple of quick trips to Bismarck and I bought a few pieces of glass and some mat board.  I would have liked more, but time was running out.    Wednesday I put in some 12 hours framing and matting. Sadly I got in to so much of a rush I ended up damaging three prints and throwing them in to the trash.  A couple of my larger print were damaged and so will only be on display as examples, but not for sale. They’re not “perfect.”  Mats were crooked, images warped.  *groan*

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Wilton’s Soo Line Depot, also 100 years old (1910) is framed in 100-year-old wood from a barn near Goodrich.

So, here it is Thanksgiving days.  Just as the other three artists and Hawk are doing, we’re dedicating a portion of the day to getting ready for the Blue Collar Black Friday Art Show.  It’s a first, so we don’t know what to expect, how much room we have or how many people show up.

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Grain bins from near Regan in barn board from a 100-year old barn near Almont will be at the Blue Collar Black Friday Art Show.

Here’s your invitation to joins us. 135 Airport Road, Bismarck, just across the RR tracks from Krolls Diner, one block south of Main Street in East Bismarck.

Come on down!

Father’sDay Hill climb

A dusty race up the hill

A traditional event — competition much like the Wing Rodeo I wrote about last week — only different.

Dakota Riders

The annual Father’s Day Hill climb by the Dakota Riders at Valley City pits local riders against each other and nature — in this case, a hill.  The goal for the smaller bikes is to see how far up the hill they can get.  The larger more powerful bikes challenge each other to get to the hill the fastest.  In all cases, it’s man and machine against nature — this hill.

It’s a subculture of note, these North Dakotans who gather at the base of the hill to socialize and to watch the events.  They share a commonality of a love of motorcycles and the motorcycle lifestyle.  But that’s about where it ends because they come in all sizes and shapes.

Magi

Cheetah Chopper

Still, a warm Sunday afternoon, good people good entertainment and good competition make the Fathers Day Hill Climb one of my annual events.  I used to shoot the competition and that only.

Now I see there’s a whole lot more to the event, and that’s the people, and in some cases the motorcycles.  It’s not a drunk fest like some motorcycle events, it’s much more family oriented so there are plenty of good photo ops.

Sometimes I think as a photographer I forget to look at the whole picture. I get so focused I miss the best stories to be told by photo — the people and the crowds.

You can check out more images of the Hill Climb in the photo garage at www.kickstandsupnd.com

Have you been there to the Hill climb?

 

 

 

Wing Rodeo

Hit the dust!

I love the Wing Rodeo — named after the little burg where the event has been held for decades.  It’s as down-home Americana as you can get.  Cowboys and cowgirls from around the region gather to compete not only against each other but against the critters they ride and rope.

Ride 'em cowboy

This year, the weather was better than some years when snow and rain made a mess of things.  This year, warm sunny weather gave competitors a brilliant day.  Even the broncs felt invigorated.  Not one of the cowboys beat the broncs to stay in the saddle til the buzzer.

I and may camera spent a couple hours at the rodeo until the clouds moved in and I lost my natural light.   The natural light of the golden hour was awesome, but those dang clouds turn even the nicest golds in to blues.

Keeping in mind the contest of the down home old fashioned event, in post processing I turned a few of the images into something more appropriate for the event.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good music makes cold weather bearable — January ’11

Dirty Word Dad and Daughter

Music runs in this family.  Dirty Word is a fun talented regional bar band.  Well, actually a cut above most bar bands because even though their music is mostly covers, they put their own twists to the songs they do, their own arrangements if you will. That tells me the band members are talented. More so, to see the lead singer and his daughter together on the stage tells me the talent is in their DNA.  For just a couple songs at Burnt Creek, a dance bar north of Bismarck, dad and daughter entertained the crowd.  She not only has talent, but has poise and confidence — enough to stand alone to sing to a building full of respectful and admiring adults.

After a couple of songs, off she went, out the back door — I assume to the motel where her mother or other caretaker was waiting. After all, though it was 9 p.m. when she was on stage, it’s still late for a girl of her age.  From then on, the crowd danced to and was entertained by the good music of Dirty Word.  It’s a Minneapolis band that is too good for little smokey bars and clubs, but probably not good enough to hold the stage at a festival or other music event such as 10K lakes.  If you get the chance however, pay the cover charge and check out Dirty Word.  I endorse the band on a cold winter night. It will get you out of the cabin, down the trail, in to humanity for an evening.

Bands seem to flourish in the winter in Bismarck.  Take Midnight Noise Orchestra.  These guys have been parts of other bands and they’ve come together for a year or two now, entertaining at local venues, usually free.  No cover charge. They play at street festivals and other artistic and open venues.  They hold your attention and keep you coming back for their own tunes.  They’re a little bit of a jam band, folk, reggae, rock, jazz, blues band. Each song does not sound like the next song, the next song, the next song….  They’re original and entertaining.

On this night, I caught Midnight Noise Orchestra at Captain Freddie’s in Mandan.  The bar caters to a young crowd and the river crowd — even has it’s own dock for Missouri River boaters to stop for a brew.  Since there’s not much of a boat crowd in the winter, music brings in the patrons.  Midnight Noise does it well.

I like shooting bands. I hope to put together an entire portfolio of my photographs of local musicians. They’re talented, but don’t have much marketing to take them up the ladder of success. I can, however, provide them with a few good shots for their own portfolio.  In the mean time, I get stretched as a photographer.  It’s not easy working with low light situations — changing colors of the stage lights, and fast moving people. I’ve found that setting my white balance to “auto,”  cranking up the ISO to about 1,200 and opening up my aperture as far as it will go allows me to use a slightly faster shutter speed to freeze the players.

Not only that, I get to enjoy the good music, connect with band members — and get a break from cabin fever.  Bismarck-Mandan has an abundance of talented musicians, so cabin fever will have an abundance of opportunity for relief.  What about you? Are you more likely to catch a good musical group in the winter or the summer?

December 30 — Grindhouse Theater Blues

Grindhouse Theater blues

We leave 2010 with a recurring theme — local musicians.  It’s been an unexpected pleasure this year to shoot the bands and musicians I’ve hooked up with such as these fellows.  On the left,Weston Shick. On the right Arnold Jordan.  (I have yet to be introduced to the guitarist in the middle.)

North Dakota is blessed with rich musical talent.  I think it is because there are people in this culture who realize if there’s going to be entertainment here, they have to make it. So, they make entertainment for themselves and for us.

For my part, I try to capture not only the moment as it existed, but add to it in a bit of a creative burst of energy, my own interpretation of the moment with processing and framing.  That’s the entertainment I make for myself.

There are few places for them to perform, but the East 40 Chophouse in Bismarck is one.  The lounge with its cozy atmosphere and warm fireplace is a great place to enjoy a respite from winter with good friends such as these.

He is not here

You know it had to be one of the worst mornings ever, that first Easter morning. Not only were Mary and the disciples mourning the death of Someone whom they loved, they were afraid. So they were hiding from the Romans, fearing they would be next.

A dark place

They were grieving. They were afraid.  They felt abandoned.  They felt hopeless.  Grief. Loss. Fear. Sadness. Sorrow. Confusion. Abandonment.

Mary got up to leave. She must leave. She had something to do. It was a dark place Mary went, the cemetery where they left the lifeless body of  Jesus.

Imagine the long, tearful walk she walked alone.  Tears. Could there be so many tears?  She had never cried like this.  She had never gone through this.  No one had ever gone through this. She must have been frightened.  She must have been sad.

She must also have been in love.  She loved Jesus so much she left the safety of the others hidden in that grief-filled room.  She went alone.  No one else had the love or the guts to do what she had to do, visit that borrowed tomb.

I cannot imagine her confusion when she arrived and she met what she thought was a gardener.  Her frame of reference, her point of view were shaped by the horrible hours she had just experienced.  The betrayal, the arrest, the trial, the torture, the spikes, the blood, the darkness, the earthquake, the torn temple veil — all shaped her mind and left her little prepared for the next event that topped anything she had experienced in the last three days.

A light shines in a dark place

She looked for a dead man and thought she found a gardener.

“Please Sir, what have you done with the body?”

The body?  A dead lifeless form that had held the Man whom she loved?

“Mary, it is I.”

He’s alive! He is risen!

Where there was darkness, now there was light!

Can there be, has there ever been such a shocking turnaround?  Not merely from darkness to light, but rather from death to life?

Light was shining in the darkness of that morning, but also in the dark gloom of her thoughts, her mind and her heart.

He is alive!

You know the story. She ran back to tell others.  John — the disciple who writes more of love in his Gospel than the other three, the one who wrote those famous words, “For God so loved the world, He gave…”  loving John ran to the tomb.  From fear and grief now to unbelievable excitement.  John ran.  Peter ran.

Peter outran John.  He was first.  He stooped down, and there were the grave clothes, neatly folded. (Isn’t that just like Jesus to leave things better than he found them?) Angels met Peter and the disciples.

He is not here. He is risen!  It is Easter this morning as I write this. I look up. I look past the cross. I look past the darkness.

He is not here. He is risen

He is risen!

Footnote:  And so, here in little Wilton, I don’t have to look far to see the story.  All within sight of my home (if it weren’t for the trees) are these pictorial reminders that Jesus is a Risen Savior.