8 min read

Memories of a Walk in Minneapolis from 2013

Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 24, 2013

How many different places have you lived? Back in the early 2000s, Minnesota was the only place I'd ever lived. After graduating college, I lived in the Twin Cities from 2000-2004.

My first two years were spent in Saint Paul, the less popular of the twins, but still a wonderful city. I was in a small apartment off Grand Avenue on 9/11 working for a startup called ewatch. On that awful day there was a bomb threat at our office so we were sent home. I spent the day monitoring forums for mentions of one of the big airlines which was a client at the time. I vividly remember leaving work and going through the McDonald's drive-thru to order way too much food.

A few months later I ended up moving to the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis, made famous by the Prince song. It was a cool neighborhood, but looking back on it, I probably moved there because it was generally considered the hipster neighborhood.

Most of the friends I spent time with were from my college days. They prefered the Nordeast neighbhorhood. It had a bit more of an authentic vibe and there were a lot of artist lofts, and general cool creative stuff happening.

Our favorite bar was Nye's Polynaise room which was famous for their polka music, and lounge vibe. I hear it's no longer around. We would drink there until late at night, talking about art, work, life, etc.

NYE's Bar, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 25, 2013

At that time, I wasn't making photographs, or doing much exploring on foot. I was a jogger, and loved running around the famous Minneapolis chain of lakes. My creative ambitious at that time were to be a writer of some sorts. I was working on screenplays, and of course had blog, probably on Typepad.

My closest friend was Keith (pseudonym), whom I'd met in college. He introduced me to the world of indie film, and the broader art world. After college, he went into advertising but we still harbored dreams of making a film together, kicking around ideas over beer at the small dive bars in Nordeast Minneapolis.

Our conversations would often veer into the broader art world, and at some point we became deeply interested in painting, heavily influenced by watching the Basquiat and Pollock biopics. So we bought our supplies, and began to experiment with abstract expressionism and pop art.

The art was terrible. But it was a good lessons in creativity and opened me up to an entire new form of expression. The physicality of making a painting, and working on a piece over several days forced me to think about creativity in a new way.

At the time, his partner was studying photography, and on one of our nights out in 2004, she mentioned a book by a Minneapolis photographer named Alec Soth. It turned out to be 'Sleeping by the Mississippi' and it was my first real glimpse of art photography. I thought it was interesting, but didn't understand the language fully. I thought it was cool that he built a visual story around his road trip. That was a novel idea to me. A seed was planted, and the name Soth stuck with me.

Later that year, I packed my bags and moved to Los Angeles. I was stuyding improv at the time, and wanted to live somewhere warm. I was able to transfer within my company at the time, so that made it much easier to make the leap.

Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 24, 2013

Several years passed.

In 2009, I moved to New York City.

Several more years passed.

Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 25, 2013

In 2013, Keith and his partner decided to get married back in Minneapolis. It would be a two day event. I took the opportunity to fly back home for the wedding, and then to visit my family back in Saint Cloud.

This would be my first return to Minneapolis since I left in 2004. By now, I was fully immersed in photography after picking it up in Los Angeles in 2006.

Something was changing in the way I was working in 2013. I'd bought a Fuji X10 and found myself making more photographs than I'd ever had previously while using mostly film. It was a snowball effect.

The more I photographed, the more I could edit, the more I realized I needed to keep improving, which led to making more photographs. That year, I essentially became almost irrationally obsessed with making photographs, and having this small digital point and shoot liberated me to use the camera in a way I had never done before. I could freely sketch and test out ideas without worrying about the cost of film.

On October 23rd, I flew into the Minneapolis airport, and took the lightrail into downtown Minneapolis. I told Keith I was going to walk to the hotel which he thought was a bit unusual.

In was in 2013 that I first started to plan my walks along specific routes. I had started my Queens Skyway project and knew this was the way I wanted to work moving forward. The walk was the event, and the blank canvas. The walk created boundaries, and a timeframe. It gave me the structure I needed.

Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 25, 2013

The novelty of walking in Minneapolis after all those years was exciting. It was a different pace than New York, and the city looked, and felt different than I remembered. It also felt a bit empty after years of walking the high density sidewalks of NYC.

I still remember that walk to the hotel, and the sense of accomplishment when I opened the door to my room. That night we hung out drinking beer and reminiscing about the college days. I was still trigger happy with the camera, but all my old pals found it amusing, and I think were happy someone was documenting the antics (those photos are in the vault).

The next day, I woke up early, a bit hungover, but still energetic. The wedding was a later in the day at a venue in Downtown Minneapolis, so I took the time to walk back across the Mississippi and wander around.

On that walk, I remember the sense of Downtown expanding as I looked more intently. I had thoughts of living there, and spending all my time documenting it from every angle. It felt achievable. But that was a fleeting feeling as I had no plans at that point of leaving New York City. I was just getting settled into a new job, and finally felt secure.

That trip stuck with me though, and I ended up making a little book for my newlywed friends.

These days I have a strong desire to get back to Minneapolis. While I only live 60 miles to the north, it's still a world away. When I decided to move back to Minnesota, the big choice was whether to settle in my hometown of Saint Cloud or go right back to the Twin Cities. I chose Saint Cloud for now, and have enjoyed these last six months.

I'll be here another year at least, but after that my goal is try to establish myself in Minneapolis. I don't know how I'll do it. There's a lot of uncertainty in my life right now and in the world, for all of us. A year from now? Who knows. Truly, who knows?

Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 24, 2013

My first step is to visit Minneapolis, and the only way to do that is to walk there from Saint Cloud. My pal Alex Wolfe's multi-day walk from Brooklyn to Philadelphia has been a big inspiration, and made me think more about the value in trying one of these walks.

From my research, it'll probably take 4 or 5 days. I am still figuring out dates, and logistics, but putting it out publicly will now force me to follow through on it.

A Walk Through Minneapolis, October 24, 2013. Ink on paper, Canson Mix Media, 7x10inches / Bryan Formhals 2021

I have been spending a lot of time working on drawing maps. It's been the most liberating creative development for me in a long time, and now I can't think of any project without considering the mapping. It's all part of the puzzle.

This is one of the few walks I can reconstruct without the use of Strava. I knew I exited at the lightrail station, and from the photos, I can tell the route I took from the hotel. So, I think this will be one of the few walks from the pre-2019 era that will have some type of documentation.

With drawing, there's a freedom. I can use my imagination, and the sloppiness of hand drawing to go into creative places I might not otherwise. You might look at these and think they are basic, and well, I guess they are, but all of the micro decisions that go into creating lines, form and color, have forced my creative mind to think differently. With drawing, you are breaking down the process to almost an atomic level. Line by line, stroke by stroke building up to something.

What ties it together though is knowing that I am reliving a walk through these drawings. This is a representation of the geography, and of that experience in a new format. The ritual of making the drawing helps me remember.

As I've started down this process, I have already noticed the maps evolving, and new ideas emerging. That process has in turn made me think about my photography, and the role of a photograph in a project in a new way.

Sometimes you go down these paths, and they lead you nowhere, but you need to try, and forcing yourself into creative novelty is a the best way to push your ideas forward.