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Making Hay

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In Manitowoc, a seemingly typical small Wisconsin town that happens to have its very own WWII submarine and a main drag dominated by massive grain elevators masquerading as Budweiser bottles, one should perhaps expect the unexpected. Within the confines of an unassuming 1893 cream city brick edifice, photographers John Shimon and Julie Lindemann have constructed a studio whose dimensions rival that of a Hollywood sound stage. During a recent visit, we made our way past countless antique cameras and lighting equipment, dwarfed by the incredibly high ceiling. Beyond a huge arch that read “STUDIO,” an unseen skylight cast the remnants of the day’s sunlight upon an antique settee as an ancient ceiling fan ominously rotated above. After ascending a grand curved staircase, we paused on the landing that functions as their workspace and informal hanging space. Discussing some of the people in the photographs, Lindemann stressed that she and Shimon always try to stay in touch with their subjects. Their current show at Ripon College, “One Million Years is Three Seconds,” features photographs of long-time friend Bob Watt and other local artists, some of whom they’ve known since they were kids. Having documented these “older, creative unconventional artists” over the years, they feel the show is simply a way to justify their ongoing project. “We photographed them because they were there,” stated Shimon. After reaching the top floor, we sat down to a beautiful arrangement of imported cheese, olives and chocolate, an art they honed in their food photography days. In order to fund their artistic endeavors, they shot photos of cookware, using mid-century commercial studio techniques. They were the youngest people to employ this pre-Photoshop methodology, which demanded perfection in front of the camera before the film was even loaded. As slow and boring this way of doing things seemed, Shimon and Lindemann enjoyed “sucking up knowledge like a sinking boat taking on water,” as Shimon put it. They had greater aspirations for this archaic photographic process, however, than merely taking pictures of pots and pans. One result of this ongoing exploration was a series of photographs of their aluminum Christmas tree collection. Before these trees became valued as collectors’ items, Shimon and Lindemann would often find these locally produced relics at rummage sales or even in neighbors’ trash cans. Years after an article on these pictures appeared in Metropolis, they were asked to do a book about aluminum trees. By this time, Shimon and Lindemann had packed all the trees away because they were so sick of them, “so it was somewhat painful to dig them out again,” claimed Shimon. The book, Season’s Gleamings: The Art of the Aluminum Christmas Tree, was definitely a “mixed blessing” in their eyes. They had envisioned a simple large format gift book situated in the impulse item section by the register. The public response, however, was “deeper & odder than we expected,” explained Lindemann. While the project was inspired by the punks of the ’70s who hung beer cans and chains on aluminum trees, which “were very nihilistic — cold, sharp and metal,” the book seems to have tapped into a more sentimental mindset. People have lined up at book signings, clutching their yellowed scrapbooks with pictures of their own families’ aluminum trees. Shimon and Lindemann see this as a consequence of the extent to which the book has been hyped by the media. “We had no idea of all of the publicizing that was going to happen,” said Lindemann. This came at a somewhat inopportune time, as they were trying to finish their preparations for their show in Chicago, “Deep, Dark and Around,” an exhibition of their gum and platinum prints, tintypesand daguerreotypes. After taking a break, we enjoyed some of Johnie’s potato leek soup in their kitchen, whose bright green walls were covered with colorful 1950’s fruit-themed reliefs. Later, we retired to the parlor and sipped mint tea, discussing the prospect of living with Season’s Gleamings for the rest of their lives. Lindemann admits that “It’s interesting to see what it takes to tap into the mass consciousness. My goal is to see Season’s Gleamings in a thrift store. Then I’ll know we really made it.” “One Million Years is Three Seconds” will run through March 4th at Ripon College. For more information, contact: J. Shimon & J. Lindemann 719 York Street Manitowoc, Wisconsin 54220 920.682.0337 http://www.shimonlindemann.com
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