Jes Lee

How it began…

It started with a photo assignment for myself…

In spring of 2018, after a winter of feeling stuck and a bit uninspired, I decided to create a photo assignment for myself to jump start my creativity. Years past I had done photo class assignments of photographing the same location multiple times over the course of a year and had enjoyed the idea. I decided to start there.

I needed to challenge myself to be alone…

I often hike and photograph with other people around. And I love this. But I felt it was time to try heading out on my own and see if it changed how I worked and thought about photographing. It was also a good challenge for me personally to spend a little more time with myself.

I started with my favorite locations….

I love Lake Superior. I grew up with regular road trips to its shores, and it remained a special place to me. Those familiar start parks and hikes seemed like the perfect place to return to regularly.

I set my timeline…

I wanted to be able to see the changes from one season to the next, the change in weather, and of course the changes in the lake. I decided that I would drive north to photograph once per month. I knew that I would be able to fit the trip into one day and not worry about staying somewhere over night. Going once a month would give me the flexibility to adjust dates according to weather and road conditions as well.

I picked my locations….

Four locations seemed like a great place to start, and allowed me to visit some of my favorites: Canal Park, Brighton Beach, Gooseberry Falls, and Tettegouche State Park. Tettegouche has long been one of my favorite places to sit and watch the lake. This was the furthest north I wanted to go, knowing I would still be able to make it there to photograph with adequate light during the short days of winter.

The technical choices:

I decided to go back to basics and photograph these locations with black and white film. This would also make it easy for me to develop the film myself. To make organizing negatives easier for myself, I decided to devote one roll of medium format film to each location. And of course, I would be taking my favorite camera, a Hasselblad 501 c/m with me.

I didn’t know what the end result would be…

I started out with this project mostly being a personal challenge to myself. I didn’t know what I would do with all of these images in the end. The main focus was on collecting them, getting myself into a creative habit again, and learning a bit about myself. Honestly, proving to myself that I could hike alone with my camera equipment and not die or get stuck somewhere like a helpless turtle was a big part of this.

And then….

About 1/2 way through this year long project, a photo friend asked to come with me. And through a days long conversation with her, it came to me that these images were meant to be layers. That they were meant to be part of a larger image, an image that showed what a year in that location was like. These images would show the ethereal nature of the passage of time. Everything clicked together.

After taking photos for a year, I started to work on the final images…

It was a long process figuring out on the first few locations how to layer all of these images together, what Photoshop settings to use: filters, opacity, image density, and lining up parts of the landscape. Once these details were worked out, my progress on the final images took off at a fevered pitch.

I realized that I didn’t want to stop with Lake Superior…

So I continued this project. In 2020-2021 I photographed 6 locations along the Mississippi River. This was started just after the stay-at-home orders were lifted, as my city was reacting to the murder of George Floyd. When I picked these locations, I didn’t know how much it would mean to me to be near by to home and my city during this year.

In July 2021 I started photographing Lake Mille Lacs. I am stopping at only 3 locations this time. The 6 locations along the Mississippi ended up being logistically draining with developing and scanning time. I wanted to take it a bit easier this time around. It has been fascinating watching the water and area around the lake change with the seasons.

Where to next?

I don’t know! If you have an idea of what Minnesota body of water I should photograph next, let me know in the comments!