Sharing the Beauty of the Northland One Photo at a Time
Special Report: Top photographers give an inside look at how they capture stunning scenes throughout northern Minnesota
NORTH SHORE, Minn. – It’s an absolutely perfect sunny day on the North Shore of Lake Superior.
Just a day shy of a major storm, the wind is calm but the waves are crashing against the rocks on the shoreline.
“It’s just raw beauty,” says Christian Dalbec, clad in a wet suit and a pair of pants he shyly admits aren’t actually waterproof.
Surfers are out in the water at this reef known as Stoney Point, a popular spot just north of Duluth.
“It just has a wave that breaks well for the surfers,” Dalbec explains. “I think the wave is produced somewhere down near Isle Royale originally. And it comes down the whole length of the lake and pumps out right at this reef right out here.”
Dalbec knows these waters well.
A native of Two Harbors, Dalbec sets out every day just to get a good glimpse of the big lake.
He’s a photographer, but not your average photographer.
“I like to get a lot of water in my photos,” Dalbec says, explaining why he’s also about to strap on a snorkeling mask and a pair of flippers.
He’s about to take photos of the lake while in the lake, almost as if his photos are from the perspective of the lake itself.
“[I’m looking for] anything with action, movement; anything that just shows the beauty of the North Shore.”
He’s fashioned a professional Nikon camera with a waterproof casing.
With that waterproof camera in his hands, Dalbec isn’t afraid to put his body at risk to get into the water and let every wave crash against him.
Every wave could be the next perfect shot.
“I’ll shoot a whole batch,” Dalbec says. “I’ll go through them and select what I need, that I think look good. [It will] come down to maybe 10 out of 300, say, from a water shoot.”
* * *
Later that same day, we meet Paul Pluskwik at a beautiful hilltop in the heart of Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range.
“We are at the Leonidas Overlook right outside of Eveleth,” Pluskwik says with a serene expression, drinking in the 360-degree view of the iron mines and towns among them within view.
Pluskwik explains that most of the mines have overlooks like this one.
“[These are] some of the most unique and beautiful locations that are ever-changing. That’s what photography does. It captures it at that time,” Pluskwik explains, as he snaps away on his camera.
The mild-mannered Iron Ranger was born and raised here, in a mining family.
He remembers the day his mother got him his first camera way back when.
“My mom – who’s passed on now – she worked at a little small, corner drug store. And back then they had film and camera departments. So my mom worked in the film and camera department, and come holiday time she could shop right where she worked and she said ‘Wow, I’ll get Paul a camera!’”
Who knows if Paul’s mother would have known that purchase would turn into a life-long hobby.
That’s all lost to time now.
But the truth is, Paul Pluskwik has taken hundreds of thousands of photos as the decades have gone on, a lifetime of sharing the natural beauty of his home – one picture at a time.
“My passion is really in the sunsets, sunrises, those little magic gold and blue hours – ya know?” Pluskwik says, an almost child-like sense of amusement and wonder at those words.
“That hour in the morning, hour in the night, is what I shoot for. I’ll drive all day to get to that one spot for a sunset. The color is amazing. There’s such a calm. The calm and the fog and the wildlife.”
And his photos reflect that sense of calm reflection.
His photos are an extension of his personality.
“Everything is so still at that time. It’s really a tranquil and beautiful time of the day.”
* * *
Lake Superior’s legacy is not just built from its iconic beauty.
Its legacy as the biggest of the Great Lakes, and one of the most important in a freshwater shipping industry that has brought generations of affluence to its port towns, cannot be understated.
And each and every day, ships from all over the continent and all over the world go in and out of the Twin Ports, Duluth and Superior.
“I just love the ships! I think it’s amazing, the size of these things, the way the handle them. It never bores me,” exclaims Paul Scinocca, who is often found right here at the harbor in Duluth.
He is the quintessential “Boat Nerd,” a term he uses inclusively and lovingly.
“I guess I’d call it someone who is obsessed with boats!” Scinocca explains. “We’ll do just about anything to get down and take a picture. It doesn’t matter the weather, the time of day, the time of night. Obsession!”
That obsession is a unifying factor.
The photographers that take time every day to document what they love about the Northland are obsessed with their art more than others might have time to be.
It’s a dedication that pays off, not just monetarily.
Scinocca is eager to point out that his photos are up in hotel lobbies all around the city of Duluth, that he’s been featured in magazines and calendars.
But he still works a day job, and only takes photos when he has the time (which is often enough!).
It’s easy to become obsessed like this when you live in a part of the world that so often gives you opportunities for such amazing pictures.
“I like a picture to convey an emotion or create a feeling,” Pluskwik explains, still snapping away. “To feel the senses of where you were is – I think – a really important thing.”
Back on the North Shore, with those lazy waves licking at the rocks, Christian Dalbec shares a more personal story.
He says he stopped drinking alcohol in 2012, the same time he started taking photos.
The passion for taking these photos, that obsession he shares with so many other photographers like him, was his way to a better life.
“After a long run (all my life) of getting in trouble – just a lot of bad decisions – it finally came to an end,” Dalbec says, matter-of-factly.
And now he’s able dedicate his life and his career to taking photos and sharing the North Shore with the rest of the world.
“I cleaned up. I don’t know; the photography came by accident. I just grabbed it as something to do. Then it caught on. I couldn’t quit shooting, and it built and built.”
The waves continue to crash.
The surfers are cheering themselves on.
Christian Dalbec is still in the water.
“Life is way better. Way better. Yep.”