For Brian Jacobson, an art photographer and journalist who works in Milwaukee, photography has been constant. Last year, during the late summer months through early fall, he decided to take a series of photographs from different, and often unseen, perspectives from high places within the metropolitan area.
The idea to take these kind of pictures and the work to do so started 5 years ago. For a long time, he didn't think about the photos more than someone would think about collecting comic books or movie stubs. It was just something that he did, but not as a focused project, until last year, of course.
The photographs he took are going to be part of a collection titled "Vantage Point," which he hopes to turn into his first photo collection book and a small collection of prints for the upcoming Gallery Night. To accomplish this, he has launched a Kickstarter to raise the funds necessary. The campaign ends in 10 days and he has $3,497 to go to reach his goal.
One of the reasons he wanted to turn the idea into a project is because he wanted those who live outside of the city to see and think of Milwaukee differently because he believes they may think of the city in a way that isn't always necessarily true.
"They think of it as something as ugly or that has problems and the people who live in the metropolitan area or work in the area, like me, know it has great function," Jacobson said. "There are a lot of beautiful buildings. There’s always potential for things, but things as of now are pretty great and it needs exploring."
"Once the Doors Open program happened, a lot of people were like, 'Yeah I used to go there in the day' and they’d come back and find out that things are still great," Jacobson continued. "Maybe there are a lot of people in the country, internationally or even locally that think, "Oh, Milwaukee is this or that." They don’t take time to look at it from different perspectives and think, 'Oh, wow. We live in this architecturally interesting city.'"
Before he decided to focus on this project, he was a photography editor for Third Coast Digest. He recalled the first time that United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF) was going to have the Ride for the Arts going over the scenic Hoan Bridge.
"I asked the organizers, 'Can I get a position up on the bridge?' And they go, 'Sure, we have people up there. We’ll take you up there,'" Jacobson said. "I was excited as heck because anybody that’s driven over the bridge always thinks, 'Gosh, this is a great view of the city and I’d love to get a photograph up here.' But you can’t stop. You have to keep going. I was given this chance to get that perspective."
It's this perspective, one that's not often seen, that he tends to go after, whether it's on top of parking garages, or on top of the old reservoir on North Avenue near Humboldt where he proclaims that the view of the city's skyline from the park is beautiful. This view could even be worth taking a photo mentally, a skill that Jacobson proclaims he has.
For him, photography has always been something where even if he's not out with his camera snapping photos, he's mentally taking pictures and filing the images inside of his memory. With a visual eye, it's what comes most natural. And, for someone who considers himself a details person, it's this visual eye that looks out for the smallest of details; every little architectural and historical bit that would make a particular, and familiar, location stand out.
"When it came time for me to think about a project, I was very jealous of Bobby [Tanzilo] and his Urban Spelunking series and that he was able to go explore places that I’ve always loved," Jacobson revealed. "As a hobby, I’m a Milwaukee historian. I love finding out every little bit of history and every background and nuance when it comes to Milwaukee, especially when it comes to the streets and the buildings and the way things look and why they look that way."
When he began research, the one image that had stuck out to him was the cover photo of Caspar's directory from around the turn of the 20th century. Back then, there was no such thing as the white or yellow pages; there was the directory and that was it. On the front cover of the guide was a picture of The Pabst building, which was the first skyscraper in the city, wedged onto the corner of Water and Wisconsin. The building was demolished in 1981, and now the 100 East Wisconsin building occupies the site.
It was this shot of the building, taken from on top of the former Gimbels department store, which is now the ASQ center, that Jacobson wanted to replicate. And so he did.
"I wanted to see what things looked like from up there," Jacobson said. "So, early one morning, I got permission, signed some papers and I was escorted by the building facilities manager and I went up there. I was taking a bunch of pictures, but I was also really trying to take that one picture of what it looked like exactly in that spot because back then, at the turn of the century, usually you got like one shot to take your photograph. If it were something official being done of a certain building or a certain street, the photographer would often go on top of the nearest tallest building. You don’t get to see too much of that nowadays."
Since he considers himself a historian, he thought of ways on how he'd write the series so the book collection is much more than just photographs, but also a history lesson. For each location he visited, he attempted to discover everything possible about the history of the location, including a timeline of what had occurred at the location and the significance and use of the building during specific time periods.
"The words that I’ve always put with the pictures would have to do with what it meant to be standing from that particular rooftop," Jacobson said. "Sometimes I can talk to the people that are working in a location and if you talk to certain people like the concierge or somebody else at The Pfister Hotel, they’re going to have pretty good knowledge that they’ll be able to recite to you."
For his research, he often used references found online, including Google's newspaper archives which holds "(more than a) hundred years' worth of Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel issues that have been scanned." When he was reading through the history of the building to "get the full flavor of something" as he said, he was digging deep into books and newspapers.
"That’s how I found out that at one time, The Pfister Hotel, after it had changed hands with New York investors, wanted to put this big outdoor gambling garden restaurant on top of it. This was before they had built this tower extension that we’re all familiar with now. So about 8 to 10 floors up, there was going to be this big disco-like place. It’s just something that I didn’t know about. It’s something that nobody really thinks about to talk about.
"When you talk about the Railway Exchange Building, for example, they have a lot of important and interesting tenants in there right now, but to talk about why that building got there in the first place and what it meant to the city at a certain time," Jacobson continued. "That’s really interesting to me."
One would think that a photographer could gain many different perspectives using a helicopter or a drone to snap a series of photographs, but ultimately decided that he didn't want to not just because of the cost, but the promise of adventure didn't seem to exist if he were to go that route. He wanted the person to view the images from his perspective.
"I wanted the same way that somebody climbs a mountain to see what it would look like from that mountain and not to take a helicopter and see what it looks like everywhere," Jacobson explained.
Although he has said that he doesn't get queasy because of heights when he's out on these adventures, but he knows when it play it safe and is quite aware of his limitations.
"Being on top of what was called the Schroeder Hotel, now it’s called the Hilton City Center, was pretty daunting," Jacobson said. "There were two higher pieces on that building that the person with me said, 'The best view is really up there.' Up there meant climbing up this iron ladder that was about 20 feet up. From the lower ground area where we were it wasn’t off the side of the building. When I got half way up, I suddenly could look off to the side and realized, (I said) 'I’m not going to make it. Why don’t you go up there since you’re used to doing this and take a few shots for me? I’ll do the rest from down here.'"
He said he wasn't able to access all the locations on his wish list, but he hopes to check them out in the near future so he can capture more images, which quite possibly might be included in a second collection book.
"This project and others sort of like it that profile the city and highlight the city will continue," Jacobson said. "I want to keep exploring spaces. There are still places that I’m inspired to just say, 'What does it look like from up there?'"
Colton Dunham's passion for movies began back as far as he can remember. Before he reached double digits in age, he stayed up on Saturday nights and watched numerous classic horror movies with his grandfather. Eventually, he branched out to other genres and the passion grew to what it is today.
Only this time, he's writing about his response to each movie he sees, whether it's a review for a website, or a short, 140-character review on Twitter. When he's not inside of a movie theater, at home binge watching a television show, or bragging that he's a published author, he's pursuing to keep movies a huge part of his life, whether it's as a journalist/critic or, ahem, a screenwriter.