Backyard Adventures (The Guthrie) by Michael Zwack

Today I'm happy to debut the first post of a new ongoing series I'm titeling "Backyard Adventures".  If you are familiar with my work, you know when I'm not traveling i'm based in Minneapolis, MN.  Having been a resident my entire life, I have a deep kinship with the city and wish to use my Twin Cities knowledge to show photographers and travels that adventure can be right in your own backyard.  

One of the many mistakes travel photographers make is they get too complacent...well, when not traveling anyway.  It's easy to fall into a rut, or focus so much on the business side that getting out and taking photos almost seems like a chore.  Hey it happens to the best of us; often times I find myself going to the same park or avoid shooting altogether because it seems fruitless to continually visit the same locations.  Thats why I wanted to try a new series where I shoot around the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota countryside, honing my skills while sharing the experience and photo knowledge I learn along the way.  

To start this series I'm focusing on my most recent visit to the Guthrie Theater.  Located in the hip and artsy warehouse district of Minneapolis, the Guthrie was founded in 1963 and has become the Twin Citie's most prolific performing arts center.  In 2006 the theater reopened in it's new location along the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis.  The redesign was a $125 million endeavor by renown designer and architect Jean Novel.  Ten years later it's the premier performing arts theater in Minnesota housing 3 theaters, an education center, seafood restaurant, 2 cafes, and a lounge.  It's this unique design which makes it a perfect location for photographers as well.

As stated, the theater is located along the Mississippi in what's referred to as St. Anthony Main.  This strip of land along the west bank of the river is a historical landmark of the city which housed the Gold Medal Flour Mill and current Mill City Museum.  With great shots of downtown, historic brick ruins, and a pedestrian bridge over St. Anthony Falls, it's a perfect destination for visitors and photographers to spend an afternoon. Having spent numerous occasions around this area, I decided to head inside.  

I've visited the Guthrie on prior occasions and have even taken in a few plays.  What caught my eye when I first visited was the architectural and creative design which allows for unique visual opportunities. For example; the panoramic image below was taken from the "Endless Bridge", which is a 178-foot cantilevered viewing platform located outdoors and overlooks the bank of the Mississippi.  As you can see the view is pretty spectacular.

Guthrie Theater. Downtown Minneapolis.  1/50 sec @ f/10.  ISO 500 24mm

St. Anthony Falls.  Taken from the Endless Bridge at the Guthrie Theater.                                   1/100 sec @ f/7. w/ ISO 400.  35mm 2 Image Panorama

To get this panorama, I took 2 separate photos and combined them in Lightroom.  A single image wouldn't have been able to record the scale I was looking to capture.  Together they connect the banks of the river and use the bridge as a visual anchor.  The tiny people on the bridge also help visualize the scale. With the setting sun highlighting the far bank of the river I was able to get a beautiful glow on the historic brick buildings.  

Looking back on this shot, I would've used a longer shutter speed to capture the flow of the water.  The foreground is also darker than I prefer which could've been fixed with HDR processing (high dynamic range); However, it was quite cold and windy on the terrace which doesn't make long exposure photography appealing. To get that shot would require 2 sets of images with a lot more time and patience than I had on that particular day.

Back inside the warm confines of the theater, I walked around in the subduedly lite hallways.  The Guthrie's visiting hours vary, but without a production that night, most of the corridors and rooms were left unlit. This, mixed with very few visitors allowed for full reign of the building's interior.  Many people are unaware that on the 9th floor, the elevator opens to a yellowish green hue permeating the room. This iridescence is caused by tinted floor to ceiling windows, which also give a unique perspective to the city.

As you can see the image below has a beautiful color to it and with the only light entering the room coming from outside, it creates great conditions for silhouettes.  Not much editing was needed for this shot.  I just needed to make sure the exposure settings were where I wanted them and the light took care of the rest.  Notice the focus is actually sharpest at the bottom of the jacket.  This could've been prevented by using focus lock to ensure the subject's face remained the sharpest point of the image. 

Gold Medal Flour Sign. As seen from the "Yellow Room".      1/125 sec @ f/4.0 w/ ISO 400  75mm. 

These are just a couple shots from the day. As you can see it doesn't take much to get out and find unique photographic opportunities.

I had no preconceived plan to swing by the Guthrie on this particular day, but having found myself in the area, I couldn't resist the urge to get in a few shots.  As you can see not every shot is perfect, but as a photographer if you don't get out to shoot, you don't improve.

It's important to look back on your work critically if you wish to improve your trade, and what better way than by exploring your own city and backyard? I hope you find this article helpful; are you from Minneapolis, or perhaps have visited?  If so tell me some of your favorite locations; I'm always looking for new and interesting places to shoot. 


The Guthrie Theater is located at 818 S 2nd St. Minneapolis, MN 55415 
Visiting Hours:  Mondays, 11 am -5 pm and Tuesdays-Sundays, 11 am -8 pm
Check the website for performance times and information at http://www.guthrietheater.org

Rebirth Brass Band Funkin' It Up at the Dakota by Michael Zwack

Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant. Downtown Minneapolis, MN.

Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant. Downtown Minneapolis, MN.

       On Thursday, February 25th 2016 the Rebirth Brass Band brought the New Orleans brass jazz funk scene to the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. One of the many New Orleans Jazz groups I’ve been looking to see for a long time. I’ve spent a good deal of time down in the Crescent City, which has been the catalyst for my ever spiraling odyssey into Jazz music. Maybe it’s the smooth, sophisticated sound or perhaps the mellow ambiance of Jazz Clubs, but whatever it is I’m hooked on the old-soul sound that reminds us where music originated.

Not to get too off track, but New Orleans Jazz is a whole other scene. If you haven’t spent time in New Orleans, you may not truly understand brass bands and the history behind the often energetic, and soulful sound of brass instruments melding together in a symphony of organized chaos. So as much as I would love to delve into the history of New Orleans Jazz, trust me when I say, they call it the Big Easy for a reason.  Whether you love it hate it, Jazz music was born on the bayou and has since given the world the likes of Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, to more recently Wynton Marsalis and Nicholas Payton; and that’s just a small dip into the New Orleans Jazz pool.

With a little context in place, it’s hopefully easy to understand that this was an exciting night. The Dakota Jazz Club is one of the few Jazz Clubs one can find in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Lucky enough to have the radio station Jazz 88 and a community of Jazz aficioados to keep the scene alive, venues such as he Dakota and it’s St. Paul counterpart Vieux Carre are able to house an array of artists to suit all tastes.



On this unusually warm February evening, I made my way downtown to catch the second show of the night. Arriving earlier than expected I waited in the atrium, with a gathering crowd of patient show-goers for the first set to conclude. Carefully listening as the doors periodically opened, I was able to catch a glimmer of the sound I’ve waited to hear live for far too long. With excitement growing I used this reprieve to get in some quick photos before the show.

With my homework done and the first show concluded, I made my way to my favorite table. Yes, I have a favorite table...and no I’m not sharing it’s location, but know it’s perfectly positioned from the stage with a clear, unobstructed view for an optimal visual-auditory experience. As much as I love the Dakota’s simple yet classy elegance, it isn’t the first venue I’d choose to catch a New Orleans Brass Band. Maybe having caught numerous acts in their native environs marching down the side streets of the French Quarter I may have been a little spoiled, but nonetheless I was ready to feel the funk.

I ordered a Surly Hell...local craft brew and settled in as I watched the crowd take their seats. With anticipating waiters looking to grab as many orders before kitchen close I briefly glanced at the select dining menu before choosing a traditional French Cassoulet of chicken confit, duck bacon, sausage white beans and bread crumbs. Granted, a little more fancy of a meal then I’d normally have, especially seeing a brass band.  I suppose I was in the mood to treat myself. With the lights dimming and my dinner soon arriving I was ready to experience the Rebirth Brass Band.

Rebirth Brass Band

Rebirth Brass Band

Founded in 1983 by New Orleanian brothers Philip and Keith Frazier, along with a young Kermit Ruffins on trumpet and other classmates from the Joseph S. Clark Sr. High Marching Band, the stage was set for the Rebirth Brass Band to slowly take the jazz scene back to it’s roots.  33 years, 500 songs, and 14 band members later, the Rebirth Brass Band is one of the longest running brass bands of it’s time. Having won the 2012 Regional Roots Grammy for their album Rebirth of New Orleans, and receiving honorable mentions from Anthony Bourdain to President Obama, they have successfully integrated their way into the pop culture mainstream. 

Opening the second show of the night with a riveting version of Ray Charles’ I’ve Got A Woman, the show kicked off with a bang. Through the course of the evening they would seamlessly intermix jazz classics such as Duke Ellington’s Caravan, and Fats Domino’s, I’m Walking with their own brass funk hits such as Feel Like Funkin’ It Up, (I feel Like) Bustin’ Loose, Cassanova, and Do Whatcha Want. Halfway through the set the band burst into what had to be at least a 10 minute jam of Trouble, featuring an energetic and unexpected solo from trumpeter and lead vocal Derrick Shezbie.

After heating up and letting the drinks settle in, it didn’t take long for the crowd to start dancing to the signature sound that mixes jazz, soul, funk, and hip-hop with traditional brass roots. Don’t be mistaken, this isn’t your grandma's jazz; This is the raw heartbeat and soul of New Orleans.  So my dear readers, if you ever make it to New Orleans on a Tuesday night, and wish to catch them in their native environment, look no further than the Maple Leaf bar where they have been performing religiously for the last 22 years.

Having to leave early due to an unexpected change in plans, the band was finishing up their signature Feel Like Funkin' It Up as I was preparing my departure.  A crowd favorite, reinforced by the ever growing number of audience members taking to dancing between the rows of tables.  Perhaps spurred on by the music's suggestive lyrics...and a few libations, the atmosphere at this time was what one would expect. Highly energized and looking to end the night on a high note, it was clear the evening would soon be coming to an end.  My only regret is having to cut out before the highly anticipated encore which undoubtedly included New Orleans Jazz classics fashioned into the brass band's iconic style.  Having missed the show's end ultimately allows my Rebirth journey to continue and with a little luck and planning, continue to New Orleans at the Maple Leaf bar.  


Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant is located at 1010 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN.  For driving directions and upcoming shows & menu information visit  http://www.dakotacooks.com 

Visit http://www.rebirthbrassband.com for information about upcoming tour dates and album information.