The aquarium is perched on the bank of lake Superior in touristy Duluth, Minnesota and holds the title of "America's only all-freshwater aquarium”. We drove by it a dozen times over the summer on our way to the Twin Cities and promised one day to pay a visit with the miniatures.
Some quick research helped get us over the hump as the whole building’s facade looks rather underwhelming and a few appealing online photographs of its interiors got us excited about the possibilities with the miniatures. So we chose a cool and rainy summer day to make our first visit. The admission price was a bit high though a positive side of overpaying is heightened creativity and extra hard work.
The exhibits were overflowing with information, we could have easily spent hours reading about shipwrecks and aquatic invaders but it was not the purpose of our visit. We found a quiet nook on the second floor with interesting looking fish, more importantly fish who liked to have their picture taken with miniatures.
Before leaving Gooseberry Falls State Park Kurt and I had a chance to hike part of the Superior Hiking Trail while the leaves still had some colors left in them.
We headed out early afternoon, the sky was showing signs of rain but we were prepared with jackets and rain covers for our camera back packs. One of our goals was to photograph an HO scale black bear in the woods. (Kurt’s inspiration for the bear came from an encounter with a real one a few weeks earlier).
While on the trail, it started to rain but we kept pushing forward as Kurt was looking for inspiration around us. When the rain stopped, the colors in the trees and the plants were so vibrant! There was a small clearing off the trail with a forest of tiny pine trees, the area inspired Kurt to set up a scene with a miniature lumberjack hacking down a tree.
We walked passed ruins of the Civilian Conservation Corp's camp built in the 1930s. Most of the buildings had only a concrete foundation remaining but regardless of how little was left it was fascinating to see signs of the group’s life in the park.
The weather turned sunny with a few clouds in the sky and occasional light rains. I counted 4 double rainbows! Our trail was hugging the Gooseberry river and after about a mile we finally reached 5th Falls, the farthest falls in the park. While exploring the river bank, Kurt discovered patches of rich green moss. The light was hitting one of them just right so Kurt quickly set up the scene of a hiker being pursued by a bear. This last scene was the highlight of the afternoon. Overall, it was a great day!
We left the beauty of the North Shore and are spending some time in the Twin Cities before heading to Death Valley National Park for the winter. We miss Lake Superior but it's good to be able to get things squared away before we head out again.
As a wedding anniversary gift, my mother-in-law brought us to the Minnesota Arboretum. I had never been there and Kurt had visited it once as a child so we were both excited to discover the place...with the miniatures, of course :) For a late October day, the weather was nearly perfect, neither windy nor cold. The diffused light seemed to make the colors in the trees even more vibrant. After about an hour of meandering I realized that there was no way we could see it all in one day.
After a nice lunch at the arboretum's organic cafe - we ate early to beat the crowd - we toured the gift shop and walked the trails through the woods. It was so beautiful! There were yellow leaves covering the ground and the trees as far as the eye could see.
While exploring, Kurt noticed the top of a barn above the tree line off in the distance and got inspired by it. When asked, a park employee shared with us that the barn was closed to the public for renovations but that we could hike to it if we wished. My mother-in-law stayed at the visitor center so she could listen to a concert performed by the Minnetonka Symphony Orchestra and Kurt and I hiked to the barn.
When we arrived to the farm Kurt began scouting locations to shoot the minis. We were alone except for a group of wild turkeys feeding nearby. Kurt chose a lone farmer admiring his barn as the scene. We were pleased with the result and Kurt was happy to finally get a red barn in one of his scenes!
Kurt and I are currently in Joshua Tree National Park working as volunteers and in our down time Kurt is photographing for our Un Petit Monde project.
Joshua Tree NP is notorious for its climbing opportunities as well as its off-road driving, night skies and of course, Joshua Trees. It’s a good thing that the miniatures in Kurt’s bag are always ready for adventure and exploration.
While exploring a wash in the Southern end of the park, Kurt found a good spot for his 4x4 jeep convoy. The sand was smooth enough for their tires to be able to deal with it. Half hour earlier the sky had the most unique display of clouds, it would have been a perfect addition to the scene!
On a separate occasion, we scrambled up granite boulders so Kurt could document a miniature climber in action.
The temperature was cool enough that the smell from decomposing fish was bearable. The Hazmat crew were the only miniatures used at Salton Sea. Kurt found plenty scenes for the crew to investigate.
Yesterday, Kurt got an early Christmas gift: a visit to Old Tucson studios where western movies like Tombstone, Three Amigos and Rio Bravo were shot. We knew it was going to be good we just didn't expect it to be this good!
Prior to our visit, Kurt worked on transforming one of his miniature figures (an auto mechanic) into a outlaw by painting and gluing parts from other figures. The holster and the gun came from a policeman, the hat from a gardener. The auto mechanic clothes were painted over and patterns added to the side of the pants. The miniature sheriff was stock.
The temperature was cool and comfortable. We roamed the old western village so Kurt could look for angles and perspectives. The sun was a challenge at times but Kurt loved the drama added to the scenes by the harsh shadows. Think Old West, it's hot, it's dry, it's dusty and Old Tucson was all of that and then some.
Kurt had more ideas than we had time. We had a lot of fun and never a dull moment. The Old Tucson actors were very talented and skilled. Those guys were not your typical weekend warriors. They played serious roles, humorous ones, perform their own stunts, fell off buildings, these guys were impressive! At the end of the day, Kurt's comment was "I don't wanna go!" I think it's safe to say he loved his Christmas gift.
We spent time in Saguaro National Park to try and capture the saguaro cactus. Pairing the miniatures with saguaros was another one of Kurt's wish for this trip. To him (and to me) the idea of the American West was a mix of saguaros, Monument Valley and friendly road runners. We learned that 1. Road runners are mean 2. Saguaros grow only in the Sonoran Desert 3. Monument Valley is miles away from the Sonoran Desert.
For this project, Kurt was originally looking to capture an orange-sand-blue-sky desert look, similar to the look of the scenes he photographed in Utah back in March 2013. We were set and ready to go to Utah when the weather threw a wrench in our plans. In Moab, the daily temperature highs were in the 50s and the nights in the teens which would make the project very challenging.
So, we looked at our options further south within a 2-day drive from Minneapolis, with reasonable temperatures and striking desert looks. We remembered White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. White sands, blue sky, beautiful weather. We spent 8 days in the dunes so Kurt could capture the different times of day.
The result is a set of still images, including a few stop motion animations to illustrate a day on the dunes. Here are a few behind-the-scene images:
Introducing the minis to the Grand Canyon had been a long time goal of ours. Kurt had visions of an airstream parked on the edge of the rim. In his mind, the airstream would be placed on the edge of one of the stone barriers.
He quickly found out that to get the shots that he was looking for, he would have to be on the edge of the canyon, which meant scrambling rocks and walking out above the canyon on narrow ledges. My reaction was a very strong "no way!". I always ended up following Kurt out there anyway. I would stay back to give him room and he would overcome his fear of heights and crawl on his belly to the edge.
Things went well for us but I never grew accustom of the whole process and would go through a mix of fear and awe each time. On our last venture on a ledge, the wind picked up. We both agreed that it would be alright to lose a miniature and not to attempt a rescue under any circumstance. Miraculously, we did not loose any of the figures we had brought to the Grand Canyon!
New Mexico Museum of Space History
In our travels, we discovered how important the State of New Mexico is to scientific research and development. Over the past few days, we toured a Space Museum, a Missile Range Museum and an Astronomical Radio Observatory.
The Space Museum, in Alamogordo, lays at the base of Sacramento Mountains. We could see the tall rocket on display from a few miles away. Outside the museum, there was an authentic F-1 Rocket Engine. Kurt saw an opportunity for his miniature mechanics to help out on a huge, important job.
White Sands Missile Range Museum
The White Sands Missile Range Museum is at the foothill of Organ Mountains, between Alamogordo and Las Cruces. It's an active base, carrying research, development and testing of missiles. Kurt found out that the Museum had on display the Fat Man bomb casing on loan from another museum. A miniature scientist is introducing the bomb's design to a high ranking officer visiting the base.
Astronomical Radio Observatory: The Very Large Array
The Very Large Array (VLA) is 50 miles west of Soccoro between the towns of Magdalena and Datil. It was the most impressive display of science: 27 antennas, combined to form a gigantic one, continuously searching the sky for distant radio waves. Bringing the miniature engineers on site to repair enormous antennas felt just right!
To see the final images go to the gallery The Zenith Project.