In 1993 (yes, last century…), I was commissioned to photograph Frank Gehry’s Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. At that time the building was just nearing completion, with many of the interior gallery spaces still to be cleaned up prior to the installation of artwork. The exteriors, for the most part, were largely complete, including the amazing polished panels of the west facade.
As dusk approached, I crossed the Mississippi, scrambling down a rough path to the riverbank opposite the museum. With the last rays of the sun setting fire to the western sky, the reflections off the museum’s facade kept getting better and better, long after you’d expect to be through for the day. My rapidly diminishing supply of film slowed down the shot rate just a little, allowing me an opportunity in between frames to fully appreciate the sparkling jewel on the cliff top across the way.
A few days later it started raining.
And so began the Great Flood of 1993
I figured out later, that according the the water levels recorded at the time, my camera position for this shot would have been at least twenty feet underwater.
Seventeen years later, I was once again in Minneapolis at the University of Minnesota. This time to photograph Kohn Pedersen Fox’s Science Teaching and Student Services building. As fate would have it, the STSS was directly across the road from the Weisman, the two of them forming a sleek and polished gateway to the campus. As before, the Weisman was in the throes of construction, this time for an expansion and renovation to the original. Having delayed the shoot for several days to avoid unseasonably heavy rains, and entertaining flashbacks to visions of flash floods, I was relieved to get a clear forecast for the first part of the week.
After our first day or scouting about the site, sunset brought with it an air of familiarity as we made our way across the demure waters of the Mississippi. The riverbank opposite was now a manicured parkland where earlier in the day, families had been enjoying the crisp fall sunshine. Right on cue, the western facades warmed up for their evening’s performance.
Tempting as it was to stay put and somehow relive a moment of youthful exuberance, the equally polished facade of the STSS beckoned from the other side of the bridge. We set up for the low angle with the river in the foreground and patiently waited for the evening sky to have its way. Perhaps I should have recalled my extended experience all those years ago but as the light fell, I all but lost hope of any magic coming our way that night. The surrounding brick buildings had all but vanished against the darkening sky when the glass and stainless steel of the STSS finally burst into life.
Beyond our project, behind the bridge and just a little way down the genteel Mississippi, I could clearly see the Weisman, still ablaze in a memorable and remarkable sunset duet.