Photography & Film

From the UP to Afghanistan and back again: Where Soldiers Come From

Where-Soldiers-Come-From-IFrom a snowy small town in Northern Michigan to the mountains of Afghanistan and back, Where Soldiers Come From follows the four-year journey of childhood friends and their town, forever changed by a faraway war. The film is an intimate look at the young men who fight our wars, the families and town they come from, and the everyday struggles of their return.

That’s how South by Southwest describes this Michigan film that captured the “Best Editing” prize in the documentary category of this prestigious festival of music, film and technology. The film was shot over 4 years in Hancock and other parts of the Keweenaw Peninsula and also in Afganistan.  In this excellent IndieWire interview, director Heather Courtney relates how the project came into being:

Where-Soldiers-Come-From-IIA little over four years ago, I returned to the shores of Lake Superior, on the northern tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, to explore the idea of making a film about the place I come from. Frustrated with how small-town America was often portrayed in the mainstream media, I wanted to tell a story about my rural hometown that countered those stereotypes. With no clear idea of what my story would be, I began to peruse the local paper (the Daily Mining Gazette) and read about the local National Guard unit. I didn’t even realize that a National Guard unit existed up there (I later learned that many National Guard armories are based in rural areas across the U.S.), so I went to one of their monthly trainings to check it out, and that’s where I met Dominic.

Where-Soldiers-Come-From-IIIAs he stood with his buddies, Dom told me he joined the National Guard after graduating from high school, for the signing bonus and the college tuition support. Pointing to the group of teenaged boys around him, he said, “These are my friends and we all joined more or less together.”

…I spent nearly two years filming them as regular 19 and 20-year-olds before they became active duty soldiers serving in Afghanistan. I also spent a lot of time with their families, friends and girlfriends. My goal was to get to know them as people rather than soldiers, and by knowing them and their families and town before they leave, we see how they all change over these four years.

Courtney’s project would end up taking almost four years of her life, as she followed the young men from their training process, to the war zones of Afghanistan and back home to Michigan, where they and their families tried to return to a normal life after the tour.

See reviews here and here and stay connected at  Heather says that she hopes to screen the film sometime this year in the Keweenaw.

You can watch the trailer at YouTube but I liked this interview with Heather best.

Photo Friday: spine as if frozen by jen526

spine as if frozen

jen526 ( Jenn Adams) says that she loves the outdoors, and photography is a great reason to go exploring, little kid style, in the woods or around a lake or through a meadow – the two are synergistic.

She asks: Does it detract anything from this photo to know that I took this on a tour boat? I’m always torn between keeping a photo simple and abstract; and telling some of the story behind it, which I enjoy when other people do and hopefully people can relate to some of the things that I do share … At Pictured Rocks, we took the typical tourist boat ride. My brother, sister and I insisted on being on the top level on the way out. There was thick fog that almost turned the boat back. People were complaining about the fog. I love fog myself, I was cheering inside. Partway out, the sun started to break through, yielding this. (you gotta see that photo!)

You can see this bigger and in her Michigan slideshow. Her other sets include Creatures, Night and Nature.

Northern Lights near Marquette on March 11th!

Originally posted to Michigan in Pictures, but definitely too good not to share!


March 11 Northern Lights over Lake Superior, photo by Shawn Malone

Last week  Michigan in Pictures featured an article saying that the prospects for Northern Lights viewing in Michigan were looking great for the next couple of years. Thanks to Pure Michigan’s Facebook, that post became the most popular ever.

Yesterday on Facebook (does it look like I’m spending too much time there??) I saw that photographer Shawn Malone of Lake Superior Photo had captured a fantastic series of northern lights shots over the frozen landscape of Lake Superior near Marquette in the early morning of March 11th. She writes:

Nice to see the northern lights back, I caught the tail end of the strongest part of the display. These were taken along the Lake Superior shore near Marquette MI.

Lights were bright, brightest I’ve seen them in years. Snow did a good job reflecting the light hitting it.

See the whole gallery on Facebook.  Shawn and Brian haven’t posted the photos to their site yet, but when they do, they’ll likely be in the Northern Lights section which includes some truly jaw-dropping photos!

If you’re interesting in keeping up with geo-magnetic forecasts, I would recommend NOAA’s Space Weather site, which includes the ability to subscribe for updates (link to “Email Products” at the bottom of the page). Definitely tune into the Northern Lights on  Michigan in Pictures, and if you see the aurora, post a comment on the Michigan Northern Lights Log!

Photo Friday: Churning by Jeff Gaydash


Jeff Gaydash writes: My love for photography began years ago back in high school when on a whim, decided to take a course in photography. I knew nothing about the process of making images and when we got our supplies list the first thing I did when I got home was open up the box of photographic paper and stared at the blank, white sheets. I did not realize until the next class that the paper was light sensitive and therefore ruined most of the sheets in the box by opening them in broad daylight. Needless to say I was mesmerized by the chemical photographic process. Projecting a negative in an enlarger and then watching the image magically appear on the paper in the developer bath.

Definitely view this photo from Port Sanilac  out bigger and check out his sets including Piezography Prints, The Great Lakes, Architektura and Explored! (slideshow).

Dive into his Flickriver…

Photo Friday: Majestic by Lou Peeples


Lou Peeples says that he has been taking photos in and around Detroit since his Canon AE-1 film days. He’s now using a Nikon D700 and a variety of lenses and loves the area; the good, the bad and the ugly. See more of his work at

You can see this photo bigger in his Downtown Detroit slideshow. His other sets include Nature, Urban and the small (but growing) 52 for 2001 (slideshow).

I’m not sure if the Ambassador Bridge can span his Flickriver, but it can try!

Film Friday: High Five for Michigan Film Incentives

“This is not about saving Hollywood. This is about saving Michigan.”
~ Mitch Albom

Read on for a report on last night’s Town Hall meeting but we definitely want to start off by featuring High Five for Film Incentives. Deep Blue Pictures takes a road trip to hear from some of the people and businesses who are benefitting from the incentive. When you hear numbers like 200 jobs at one company and 6,000 room nights at one hotel, you have to take note. Tip: Stick around for the closing song. Amazing work!

Not Your Average Point & Shoot by photofrenzy2000
Not Your Average Point & Shoot
by photofrenzy2000

The Detroit Free Press has a report on last night’s overflowing Michigan Film Town Hall Meeting:

More than a thousand strong, members of Michigan’s movie industry came together Thursday evening in a dramatic show of unity, gearing up for a massive lobbying campaign in Lansing to save their livelihoods.

…”We spawned the growth of a new industry in Michigan that might be 1/20th or 1/10th of the 21st-Century economy,” said Andy Meisner, treasurer of Oakland County, who helped create the tax breaks. “Can you put a price on bringing young people back to Michigan?”

(and from the other side of the argument)

Though the industry has generated $649 million in spending in Michigan since April 2008, John Nixon, Snyder’s budget director, has said the incentives are too much of a drain for a state facing a $1.8-billion budget deficit. Since the program began in April 2008, Michigan has approved $304 million in tax credits for 202 productions, paying out $96 million so far.

The Detroit News has a report as well. On the video front, America Jr was on the scene and has some videos from including Jeff Daniels & Mitch Albom addressing the crowd and some interviews with attendees. There’s lots more at!

What do you think? Post a comment, Tell Rick on Facebook or  head over to Rick’s Wrong (About the Michigan Film Industry Tax Credit).

Baffling Budget Beatdown: Axe to Fall on Michigan Film Incentive?

If you care about this issue, visit Tell Rick on Facebook or Rick’s Wrong (About the Michigan Film Industry Tax Credit). You can also try to contact your legislators and impress upon them the importance of this tool to Michigan’s future. If you have more ideas, post them in the comments below!

snyder-1-avengers-0The budget process has just begun, but already Michigan is feeling the pain with news that the big-budget movie featuring Iron Man, the Hulk and Captain America –  The Avengers has decided not to shoot in Michigan.

“They were all set to come here,” said Chris Baum of Film Detroit, a division of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau. When producers couldn’t get confirmation that they would still qualify for the incentives, they decided to pull out of the state, Baum said.

You can see Mitch Albom discussing the issue in a video below. He asks in  his excellent article on how (and why) Michigan should fight this if  any other field grew 100 times over — from $2 million to $225 million — in two years and if any other field kept our young, bright minds from leaving or brought more attention to the beauty and talent of our state. The answer is definitely “Heck no!” and  I think Albom makes a great case for what a baffling move this is on Snyder’s part to shoot our booming media production industry in the head. Mitch writes that the paltry $25 million allocated to the program will do little:

Either way, he kills the future of the film/TV/video game industry here. With such a low cap, few new projects will come. Many have pulled out in the last few days. Studios just washed millions down the drain. Folks who moved here to be part of a growing industry will leave again.

And we look like fools. Imagine a state that yells, “Come on in!”, leads the nation in a program — then three years later shuts it down. Would you want to do business here?

Learn about Snyder’s thinking right here and see how the Center for Michigan reads Snyder’s budget. One thing is sure – the numbers don’t add up, something that is puzzling given Snyder’s “Nerd” reputation. WLNS reports that:

Ernst & Young has found that Michigan’s film incentives generate nearly 6 dollars in economic activity for every dollar spent. It also shows the production of movies and TV shows in Michigan during 2009 and 2010 generated 812 million in economic output and more than 6,000 full-time equivalent jobs. A senate fiscal agency previously said the incentives generate 10 cents in new tax revenue per dollar spent. Governor Snyder’s budget proposal calls for the elimination of the film tax incentive program and orders a 25 million dollar cap on film credits starting later this year.

In case anyone is keeping track, that is well above the $3 figure we’ve heard for Pure Michigan. Here’s Mitch talking about the issue.

Photo Friday: DN hiking it, Elk Lake- Elk Rapids, Michigan by rickrjw

DN hiking it, Elk Lake- Elk Rapids, Michigan

rickrjw (Rick Wolanin) added an ice boating shot from Harbor Springs to the Absolute Michigan pool today, but I liked this one from 2 years ago on Elk Lake.

He’s a retired commercial photographer. Check his Collections for tons of iceboating and sailing shots. Other sets include Boyne City,  Sunsets/Sunrise and Iceboating (slideshow).

Speaking of Elk Lake, here’s a great video from a few years ago of iceboating on Elk Lake.

Fiborn Quarry by Marty Hogan

Today’s post and photos are by Marty Hogan, a member of the Absolute Michigan pool on Flickr who does amazing work photographing Michigan’s nearly vanished ghost towns. See all the photos at Fiborn Quarry set (slideshow).

Fiborn QuarryFiborn Quarry was created by a partnership of the Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic Railroad in 1904. This small company town was built to house the workers (homes and a boarding house), offer a school and a general store. The operations consisted of the quarry plant, crusher house and steam engine shop.

In 1909, the Fiborn Quarry operation was sold to Algoma Steel and continued operating the open pit limestone mine until 1935. In the year of 1935, Algoma Steel required the residents to move; and so the buildings were either torn down or moved. It was briefly reopened when limestone was needed to pave US-2.

Algoma Steel ceased ownership in 1987. Fiborn Quarry was purchased by the Michigan Karst Conservancy.

Window at Fiborn Quarry.jpgThe sole reason for Fiborn Quarry to exist was a need for its natural product; limestone of a high purity. Why? (Besides the obvious use as a construction material.) Calcium carbide is used to easily generate acetylene gas by placing water in contact with the carbide. Acetylene held broad potential as bright, clean, and economical light source. Calcium Carbide would be manufactured by cooking limestone in continuously operating electrical furnaces in the carbide plants in Sault Sainte Marie. In the summer of 1898 sources of suitable limestone were being sought in the eastern Upper Peninsula for use at the carbide plants in Sault Sainte Marie. Needs for pure limestone would soon bear directly on Fiborn Quarry and its residents.

The Eastern Upper Peninsula is an unlikely candidate for nearly pure limestone due to the rather recent passing of glaciers. Within this surface level “vein” of limestone, ideal conditions have been formed in the concentrated wetlands which have formed caves. There is an underground flow of water which eventually drains into the Hendrie River. As of today, the process which formed the caves is also eroding them.

Some of the people who were born here and those who have spent a segment of their lives here, still return occasionally to look at what has become of Fiborn Quarry.

Links and more at Fiborn Quarry and the Michigan Karst Conservancy or just skip straight over to the Michigan Karst Conservancy & Fiborn Karst Preserve for the fascinating history and geology of Fiborn Quarry!

City Recycling + Film Incentive = Raleigh Michigan Studios

On Michigan in Pictures we recently wondered whether the road to Oz will wind through Michigan. Here’s a feature on where the Wizard’s balloon may land in Michigan.

Crow's Nest by Jeff Gaydash
Crow’s Nest by Jeff Gaydash

Great Lakes Echo has a cool series about City Recycling in the Great Lakes Region that looks at how brownfields and abandoned industrial centers are being reborn in our region. About a month ago, Courtney Morra wrote Former truck factory could make Michigan a movie star, an in-depth feature on the Raleigh Michigan Studios reconstruction project well underway at the General Motors Pontiac Assembly Center (video from employees on last day). LA based Raleigh Studios is  the country’s longest-running film studio with over 2 million square feet of production space. The project is slated for opening this year and  will add significantly to their capacity and create over 5,000 new jobs:

The studio will be equipped for 3D animation and special effects, and serve as a learning center for Michigan film students. Students are expected from the nearby Detroit College for Creative Studies and Oakland Community College.

…The new studio’s financing includes $11.1 million in Michigan Film Infrastructure tax credits, according to a report from Crain’s Detroit Business.

“The infrastructure credit was put in place to encourage the building of film infrastructure projects, including studios, sound stages and post houses,” said Michelle Begnoche, a communications representative from the Michigan Film Office. “Approved applicants receive a 25 percent tax credit against their Michigan business tax.”

There is a Raleigh Michigan Studios site that is apparently coming soon, but you can get information on the Raleigh Michigan Studios Facebook. There’s also a section at that includes a studio map, location,  a photo gallery and information about the unique design of 9 sound stages (175,000 sq. ft.) and support space. You can also get more at Raleigh Michigan Studios on mLive including this video tour & interview with the devleopers.