Photographer David Barthel looks through the viewfinder of his camera Wednesday, April 24, in St. Cloud. Barthel is releasing a book of landscape photography focused on Duluth and the North Shore. (Photo: Dave Schwarz, firstname.lastname@example.org)
SAUK RAPIDS — David Barthel started taking photos nearly 20 years ago.
But he didn’t turn his art into a career until he got a little nudge from the Great Recession: Barthel was laid off from his electrical engineering job in 2008.
The 36-year-old Sauk Rapids resident didn’t stay idle very long.
“That’s when I started transitioning into photography because up until that point, photography had been primarily a hobby,” he said.
Now it’s how Barthel makes his living — selling photographs at art fairs across the Upper Midwest under his brand, North Shore Images Photography.
It’s also how he became a published author. His first book — “North Shore-Duluth: A Photo Tour of Northeastern Minnesota” — will be released in June.
More than a guidebook
The book, published by AdventureKEEN, is a photo-based guidebook featuring 96 sites in Duluth and along the North Shore of Lake Superior. The book includes photos — most of which were taken by Barthel last fall — along with information about each site written by Barthel.
It’s meant to be an upgrade to the typical guidebook because it features interesting tidbits about each site, as well as contact information for getting to each place. It also features what Barthel has earned a reputation for — breathtaking photos of Duluth and the North Shore of Lake Superior.
“I had no plans on doing a book,” he said. “As a photographer, the whole idea of doing a coffee table-style book crosses your mind, but it’s always a back burner-type thing.”
But showing off his art to new audiences interested Barthel, who often spends hours at one site to capture the image he sees in his mind.
“I might just sit and watch the light change for an hour or two in the morning,” he said. “Having done this for so many years, I’ve developed a style for what I’m looking for. Over the years, you build awareness of what’s possible and what makes a picture dynamic and pleasing.
“Those are the pictures that are meaningful to me because it takes a little bit of imagination to think of what the result is going to be,” he added. “Where I could go to Split Rock Lighthouse and take a picture that’s been done 100 times — to me those are less rewarding.”
But when Barthel does photograph common tourist spots, his photos reveal his unique vision.
A photo of Split Rock Lighthouse in the book captures the iconic lighthouse with a ship in the background. Barthel said he took the photo on Nov. 10 — the anniversary of when the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank.
Barthel was born in Sauk Rapids and lives there now. He visits Duluth and the North Shore about a half dozen times a year.
“It’s kind of funny because I probably photograph a lot less than hobbyists do,” he said.
But while Barthel is drawn to the North Shore for inspiration, his base in Central Minnesota helps his business.
“I think the main thing is I’ve got family here and a lot of the art fairs I do are in the Twin Cities, so I’m closer to those venues.” he said. “Duluth is a beautiful area — don’t get me wrong — but I can get the best of both worlds.”
While he has photographed other regions of the United States, Barthel’s passion is northeastern Minnesota.
“I think it somewhat stems from taking family trips up to Duluth as a kid,” he said. “It was a highlight of the summer.”
David Barthel’s photo “Souls of Superior” captures waves crashing against a rocky shore in Crystal Bay at Tettegouche State Park on the North Shore of Lake Superior. The photo was taken for Barthel’s book, “North Shore-Duluth: A Photo Tour of Northeastern Minnesota.” (Photo: David Barthel)
Barthel and his parents and younger brother took many annual vacations to the region, he said.
“I do remember back in 1989 we took our first trip up the North Shore. We stopped at Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock Lighthouse. Outside of those particular stops, I remember the trip being boring,” he said with a laugh. “But now, it’s different. I’ll often drive right through Duluth to head to different spots on the North Shore that I like to photograph.”
Barthel became interested in photography in high school. He was inspired by photographers Craig Blacklock and Jay Steinke, who are well-known for nature photography.
“At the time, I wasn’t at a level near where they were,” he said. “Over the years, I kept getting better. I knew I would have to step up my game if I wanted to make a business out of it.”
Barthel’s work has received numerous awards and has been published in several national and regional magazines, including “Outdoor Photographer” and “Minnesota Monthly.”
Art fairs as a ‘show room’
Barthel first showcased his photography at the Lemonade Concert & Art Fair in St. Cloud in 2011. Now he attends about 20 shows a year across the upper Midwest.
“I don’t get paid as much as I did in my former job, but I love being able to work for myself,” he said.
Many art fairs are juried, which means artists need to apply and have their work judged by a panel. Some art fairs accept fewer than 15% of applicants, Barthel said.
“Being invited to exhibit and sell your work is never guaranteed, and odds vary a lot depending on the prestige and reputation of the show,” he said.
While smaller prints are sold at shows, many larger prints are custom-ordered. The size of his photos ranges from a 6-by-9-inch matted print to a 72-inch framed print.
“It’s kind of like a show room,” he said.
Barthel does his own framing at his home studio.
“I’m involved in all aspects of it, which is really neat because when I present the piece of art to the public, it’s almost entirely new,” he said.
Continuing ‘ethical photography’
After promoting his new book, Barthel’s priority will be to continue attending art fairs and continuing to photograph the North Shore.
“In working on the book, I’ve discovered some new places that I’d like to spend more time and make more fine art photographs,” he said.
Barthel is also using his platform to promote ethical principles to minimize impact on the land, such as staying on established trails.
He extends this practice to social media, where he does not disclose precise locations for seldom-trod places to avoid increased foot traffic that damages fragile terrain and ecosystems.
“It’s great that people value being outdoors and enjoying these places, but at the same time, some of these places are being loved to death,” he said.
He also plans to photograph places he’s visited, such as the Pacific Northwest and the American Southwest, as well as travel to new places, such as the southeastern United States and the Great Smoky Mountains.
“Those are some places on my checklist,” he said.
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How to follow David Barthel
Barthel’s book, “North Shore-Duluth: A Photo Tour of Northeastern Minnesota” will be released June 10.
The book is a photo-based guidebook featuring 96 sites in Duluth and along the North Shore published by AdventureKEEN. It will be sold online at Amazon.com and Barnes Noble.
A launch event is scheduled May 25 at Bookstore At Fitger’s in Duluth. Books will be available for purchase at the event.
Follow David at www.northshoreimages.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/NorthShoreImages and on Twitter @NShoreImages.
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