Itasca State Park (26 Years and Counting)


I was in my early thirties when I was first invited to show my work to Mike Kovacovich, manager and the rest of the management staff at Itasca State Park. Itasca State Park is the home of the Headwaters of the Mississippi River and is Minnesota’s first state park dating back to 1891.

Before the Meeting, I had been up to photograph the park a few times, so I showed those images along with some of my other work from the north woods of Minnesota. It was at this meeting where my ongoing relationship with Itasca began. In the following years, I have seen the park employees turn over in some case several times.

Almost from the beginning, I decided that I wanted to try to make Itasca part of my life work. It was not a tough choice as at the time I lived approximately thirty miles from the Headwaters so getting there was no problem. There were to be many mornings when I would leave home an hour or more before sunrise.

Itasca has attracted somewhere around a half a million visitors or more annually. My goal was and still is to photograph the Headwaters without people in the scene. So how do you accomplish this with so many visitors coming to wade across the river or walk across the rocks that define the beginning of the Mississippi River? My solution has always been to be the first person there each day when I photograph the Headwaters.

Some people have asked “Why do you keep going back when you all ready have several images of the Headwaters?” How do you not make the same picture over and over?

With time everything changes. Some change quickly like the change of color in the fall, and others very slowly like the erosion of rock by water flow. People also change,. We are an accumulation of every experience we have good or bad. Change is the one constant in life.

Over the years I have always tried to look at the Headwaters as if I have never seen it before. Sometimes this leads me to new points of view as well as some that keep demanding to be photographed. The flow of the water over the rock changes with the level of Lake Itasca and this changes the look downstream. Trees grow from seedlings, and others die of old age.

Each visit is a unique experience which builds upon those of prior trips. This leads to a different point of view of the Headwaters. Watching a bird land in a tree made me think of that bird is seeing, so the next trip I brought a ladder. Or then you have a wide-eyed child standing midstream just feet from the rocks that leads to making a image from the child’s point of view.

The Headwaters scene is in a constant state of change even during any given day. Thousands of people from around the globe come to see the Headwaters and maybe walk across the Headwater rocks. Some days there are no visitors and then there are days where it is wall to wall people.

Even the way we make photographs has changed. For about twenty-five years I made photographs with a 4X5 large format camera on a tripod. Today I am working with a high megapixel camera, still on a tripod. Today it is even possible to use the same camera to make a still, shoot video and to create a time lapse video.

One would think that after so many years of photographing the waters of Lake Itasca spilling over the rocks and giving birth to the Mississippi River that it would get old and boring. Not for this photographer. I am looking forward to my next visit and think of how can I push my self and my equipment to make the next great image in my portfolio on the Headwaters. When do we go?