Lake Michigan plays an integral role in the life of Chicagoans and other Midwesterners. Our beautiful lake, its sandy beaches, wildlife, and the sky above are an ever-changing collage of colors and motion: fiery orange and red sunrises and sunsets, crashing waves, migrating birds in the air and on its shores, and fish and other creatures below its surface. The lake serves as a destination for recreational activities such as fishing, sailing, kayaking, and swimming; provides relief from the heat during the summer; and offers a place to de-stress from modern life in any season. Most importantly, Lake Michigan—which is the fifth-largest lake in the world—provides water to 10 million people in the Midwest.
Many of us take this beauty and the health of Lake Michigan for granted. But underlying this beauty is the danger Lake Michigan, its entire ecosystem, and humans face because of ongoing pollution and environmental degradation.
Luckily, some people care about protecting the lake and showing others its beauty. One such person is Ted Glasoe, an environmental advocate and talented nature photographer who I’ve known for more than 20 years. Earlier this year, I wrote about his excellent exhibition, “Surface Tension: Beauty and Fragility in Lake Michigan,” which he presented in collaboration with Nelson Armour at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and several other venues. (In early 2018, the exhibition moved to the Saugatuck Center for the Arts in Saugatuck, Michigan, and ran for a few months.) Each year, Ted publishes a wall calendar that presents his beautiful images of Lake Michigan (the photos in this blog post appeared in his 2018 calendar). I purchased and received my copy last week, and it would make a great stocking stuffer. I recently talked with Ted about his work, his love of Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes, and his new calendar.
Q. Can you tell me about your work?
A. My photographic work is focused primarily on Lake Michigan. I love to go on walks along the lake and observe and capture it in all its moods—from wavy and angry to calm and serene. With each mood comes a new color palette and a new texture. I’ve been actively shooting the lake for over 20 years, and I am still discovering new scenes.
My goal is to create images that speak to people on an emotional level. Many people are drawn to this area—and stay here—because of the lake. When they view my images, I want them to think, “That’s Lake Michigan. That feels like home.”
Q. What attracted you to photographing Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes?
A. Water has always been an integral part of my life. I grew up on a lake in Minnesota, had a family cabin on another lake, and went to college on a lake in Madison. So when I moved to Chicago, I fell in love with Lake Michigan. To me, it is this area’s single greatest asset and most powerful natural influence.
As a photographer, I set out to capture that essence visually. I wanted to do more than document the lake. I wanted to reveal its strength and beauty but also its frailty. I often include manmade items in my shots—breakwaters or water intake cribs, for example. This juxtaposition speaks to the delicate balance between humans’ attempt to tame or claim the lake and the lake’s power and resilience.
Q. What are the greatest threats to the health of the Great Lakes, and what can we do to address them?
A. Some of the most obvious threats are industrial pollution and agricultural runoff. There’s also the danger of oil spills, like the one in 2010 in the Kalamazoo River after a pipeline burst. Many people aren’t aware that another large, aging pipeline runs under the Straits of Mackinac, posing a potentially catastrophic threat to lakes Michigan and Huron.
Another problem is invasive species, which may have wreaked more havoc on our lakes than anything else. I just read an enlightening, albeit disturbing, book by Dan Egan called The Death and Life of the Great Lakes. In it, he chronicles the massive damage to the Great Lakes ecosystem from invasive species, most of which arrived via the ballast tanks of ocean ships that were exempted from the Clean Water Act. He points out that if the devastation were visible on the water’s surface, we’d recognize it as one of the most profound ecological disasters ever.
A more recent and widespread form of pollution is microplastics. These include microbeads in cosmetics (set to be severely restricted in products sold in Illinois in 2018 and 2019) and fibers from our favorite fleece clothing. The tiny plastic filaments that make up fleece fabric break free during washing. Because they cannot be removed in the water treatment process, they flow directly into our rivers and lakes. These miniscule plastic fibers have been found in fish and wildlife. It is inevitable that they also end up in us. We can all help by not using products with microbeads and looking for alternatives to fleece.
Supporting groups working to clean up and protect the Great Lakes is also a great way to get involved. The Alliance for the Great Lakes has several beach cleanups a year that anyone can join.
Q. Can you tell me about your new calendar?
A. I’ve been creating a calendar of my Lake Michigan photos for the last eight years. This year, I focused on a composition that I’m constantly drawn to—with the horizon running directly across the middle of the frame. I hope that this constant helps paint a memorable picture of the lake and its personality as the year unfolds.
In light of the proposed funding cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, I am donating 20 percent of my 2018 calendar sales to the Alliance for the Great Lakes and Freshwater Future.
Click here to learn more about Ted’s beautiful calendar.
To learn more about protecting the Great Lakes, visit the following websites:
Copyright (all text, except the interview) Andrew Morkes; Ted Glasoe holds the copyright to his interview and photos