Jes Lee

Banning State Park

I am anxiously waiting to be able to go hiking at the state parks again. I am much more stable walking, and almost back to the distances I was previously able to hike. We have a list of parks to get to this spring and summer, and I am already stocking up on film to take. 

In the mean time, I thought I would share some of the images I made last year while we were out camping and hiking. 

These images also tie into my water project. While I won’t go back to these places every month for a whole year, I want to document the time I did spend there, and count them in the overall project.

Next month I plan to get back to regular photographing for my year long water project, and I am so looking forward to days of taking photos and developing film again.

Thanks for being here!
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I will be sharing with you more of the process of making the books for my series A Year Long Portrait of Water. As I am nearing the end of the first stage of this project, I want to document the processes I have been using to make these books.

First I will share a bit about the printing process. Below is a video I made last fall, after printing images for this book in my studio all summer long.

There are three types of images included in each book. The cover includes a silver gelatin darkroom print. The final images are ink jet prints of the compilation photos created from each year of photographs. And in between are photopolymer photogravure prints of images taken during that year. Photopolymer photogravure is a process of hand printing photo images using hard, light sensitive, plastic plates that are hand inked. This is a process I have been working in for many years now. I am far from perfecting it…I don’t think I ever will…but that is part of the magic for me.

After taking another long break from updating this blog, I hope to come here a lot more often with updates on this project, process posts, and a few other things thrown in. If there is something special you would like to see, please let me know in the comments. Thank you for reading!

Jes Lee is a fiscal year 2022 recipient of a Creative Support for Individuals grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature; and by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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!

The Year Long Portrait of Water

Perhaps the best place to start is to introduce myself and my project…


I am a photographer…


I am a photographer, documenting the memories of our landscapes. I photograph what we leave behind on this earth, what appears, what disappears, and what remains. Using my camera I document our fragile home, witness the changes, and attempt to tell her story.


“Water is mutable, flexible, adaptive, and persistent. It holds memory and structure. Water’s
structure allows it to work together as a unified system.” – Edgar Fabian Frias.


Much of my artwork focuses on water.


Our bodies of water hold the memory of the space they occupy, how that space has changed over the centuries, and how the surroundings have changed. Our water bodies hold the memory of our footprints on this earth, the memories of centuries of inhabitants within and without. Often at the center of very politically charged battles for usage rights and fossil fuels, our bodies of water are sources of life.


Photographing, documenting, and telling the stories of Minnesota’s bodies of water is an ongoing project for me.


This project began by documenting a year of Lake Superior’s memories. These photographs were taken with medium format film from the same vantage points at four locations along the north shore. I photographed each location once per month from May 2018 through May 2019. To create the final images, I layer these photographs on top of one another.


Through this process I create a compilation image of one full year of memories of that water and land.


The final images have an eerie and ghostly quality to them, at once showing a brief moment in the lifespan of the water, and hinting at what may be yet to come.


Lake Superior was only the beginning.


From May 2020 through May 2021 I photographed a year of a portion of the Mississippi River. Like with the Lake Superior project, I identified six locations between South St. Paul and Elk River, and photographed these locations once per month. I completed photographing May 2021 and am currently creating the compilation images of these places. Last summer I began photographing Mille Lacs Lake in the same way, and will complete photographing the lake in July 2022.


The grant project…


I just received a Minnesota State Arts Board Creative Support Grant to continue work on this project. I will collect these photographs and compilations and form them into a series of hand bound artist books, documenting each location and it’s story. Books are accessible, intimate, and give the viewer a tactile connection with the work. They can be shown in a variety of settings. Most of all, they must be held and touched by the viewer for the full experience. This gives the viewer a more intimate, tactile connection with the work. The grant period runs from January 2022-December 2022. During that time I will be hosting a variety of virtual events showcasing the creation of the books and discussions of our local bodies of water, their meanings for our people and neighborhoods, their importance to our climate. These virtual events will be recorded when possible and shared in this space as well.


I hope you will follow along on this journey.


I will be sharing many looks behind the scenes, and sharing bits of my artistic process. I hope you join me, I hope you ask questions, and I hope this makes you think a bit differently about the bodies of water near you.


Neither I Nor You

“Neither I Nor You”


From September 2021

Shovel Point, Tettegouche State Park, MN
🎞 Expired Konica Infrared
📷 Hasselblad 501c/m
🧪 Xtol 1+1 7:30minutes

New Projects


It has been awhile since I’ve posted here. I have plans for that to change, slowly. You’ll start to see more posts, more projects, more “how did she do that” from me going forward. 

For now, I want to introduce you to one of the “many” projects I have in the works. 

This project centers around Lake Superior, and how she changes (yes, I see this beautiful lake as a feminine spirit) month to month.

My plan is to drive north once per month, and photograph the same four locations. The main photographs will be taken with my medium format Hasselblad 501c/m camera using Ilford black and white film. I of course could never leave the house with only one camera, and will be sharing instant film photos, as well as digital photos, over the next several months.

I started these trips in May.

My first trip on one of those beautiful hazy mornings, when the horizon blurs together. This image was taken in Canal Park in downtown Duluth.

I’m not entirely certain where this project will lead. I have hopes of where I would like it to go, but we are still in conversation about details. This is a different project for me. I will never get tired of seeing the lake, or of the drive up 35W to the shore. But I don’t usually stick to a regiment like this, photographing the same place every time. 

Still, it fascinates me.

The idea started scratching at me after I had read Sally Mann’s book ‘Hold Still‘. This is still one of my favorites of the biographies I have read recently. She describes a project she was working on, photographing deep parts of the south, loading up her station wagon with wet plate collodion chemistry and her large format camera, and just driving until she found what she was looking for. That very idea calls to me, and every day it takes a lot of will power to drive myself to work instead of driving out into the wilderness in search of photos. 

In some ways, this project is a baby step towards that. A project that keeps me going out and coming back at a regular frequency. Something with just enough structure to keep me grounded, but plenty of room for freedom. 

Stay tuned. I’ll share more images from this project soon.

Thanks for sticking around. You’ll hear a lot more from me now. 



Sometimes the baby steps seem boring

It has been awhile again since I have posted, but I have been hard at work on this project since the last update.

All along I knew this series would involve a lot of experimenting. I am far from an expert at this medium, but I am in love with it. I have learned to use new equipment, work in a different environment that what I have in the past…

All of these lead to much trial and error. When it comes to trying to keep up a blog about a project, it often seems like all the trials, and especially the failures, are boring to talk about. But they have their place in this journey as well, and it is time some of them are acknowledged here.

Nikki Schneider, the printmaking professor at ARCC, the studios where I am creating this work, encouraged me to test out a bit of the graphite color ink we have in our supply. Her words were “try it, I bet you fall in love, and then you’ll buy your own 1-pound can of it”. She was right! I tried one of the not-so-successful prints with it, and fell in love with the tones. Off I went to buy ink.

I have heard so many people love the Akua soy based inks. Doing anything in a way that is somehow better for the environment is always on my mind, and I felt I should give them a try. So I bought two colors, one of course being graphite, and headed back to the studios. I never posted any of those results here, because they are not good. The inks are very runny, and very light. I tried modifying them, but could see right away that it was going to take a lot more work than what I had time for. I was discouraged, and after many conversations with the other artists around me, I went back to using oil based inks. I’m not giving up completely on the soy inks, but I can’t dedicate that much research time to this series on ink alone.

The last print I posted here was one of the best plates and prints I had made so far. There were still parts of the image that were not quite right though, and needed adjusting. Part of the back ground was a bit too blown out, and the layer with the street signs was showing through too dark. Now the challenge of making those fine adjustments, and making another plate.


I like how this print turned out better, and I am thrilled that I am getting the hang of adjusting the image to what I need to make a plate that I want. This has been the hardest (and possibly the most expensive!) lesson to learn through all of this, but it is encouraging to see the progress.

Last week I also did some experiments with color. My earlier work has been full of bright colors, and while I don’t expect (or want) this medium to take on the same qualities as my earlier work, I am very curious about how color choices will play into this series of images. Most of all, I wanted to know how possible it would be to ink and wipe a plate with two colors of ink on it. How much control would I have over the edges where the colors met? Or would everything just mix together to be an ugly brown blob?

It turns out, inking a plate with two colors is not that hard. What is harder is feeling that I have mixed the right colors, and that the colors are actually adding to the feeling of the image. I still have a lot of research to do on that piece of the puzzle.


The first image I made with a much harder edge between the two colors, and I was surprised at how easy it was to control where that edge would be, and how I could control what blended and what didn’t.


The last print I made in that short run, I blended the edge a lot more, letting the colors bleed in to one another. I know I have a lot more questions and challenges to work out with this, but it is exciting to see that the potential is there.

So far all the images I am working with are double images. This is a challenge with this process as it is very easy for areas to get too dense, or to not have enough detail. I have not yet mastered it, but from my first many trials, I am learning a lot about what type of image I am looking for and what the transparency should look like.

I have a long way to go still before this work is displayed this summer, but I am feeling perhaps a bit more sure about myself with this. Every time I make a plate, and pull a print, I am thrilled to be working in this way, and letting myself run wild with future possibilities and projects. And that is something I can not give up on.

I know I have jumped with both feet into the deep end. Thank goodness for all that taught me how to swim!