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a painterly light

Updated: Aug 23, 2022

“sometimes i arrive just when God's ready to have someone click the shutter.”

― ansel adams

earlier, i had been at prospect terrace park in st. paul. this park is situated on top of bluffs looking out toward the mississippi river and st. paul across the river. there are trees on the topside back in from the bluffs; there are also trees at the very edge of the bluffs and on the sides of the bluffs. these trees are quite varied in height. when the leaves have dropped, there are quite spectacular views to be had. i had wanted to make an image from there as the sun went down but forgot about one important detail.

this time of year, the trees are fully leafed out and created an almost absolute blind to seeing much of anything from there. i found a few small openings in the trees here and there that allowed for narrow glimpses beyond the tree line. i even attempted to make an image of the cathedral of st. paul through one of the small openings. after a few other attempts to make an image at different spots along the bluff, i called it and moved on. another day, prospect terrace park, another day…

i had now just pulled into the parking lot where the wabasha street caves were located. they were at the foot of the bluffs from where i had just been on top. let me back up; i actually had passed this location just a few minutes earlier as there was a security or police car parked at the entrance of the parking lot. i figured i didn’t need to attract attention pulling in there at the time. no…i wasn’t planning anything illegal or crimeworthy. i just wanted to see if i could make an image. i had made images there on other occasions but wasn’t getting that “wow” factor. so i pulled into the nearby holiday convenience store to get a drink and see if the vehicle would be gone when i came back out. sure enough, it was! my plan was back in play!

wabasha street caves, at its inception dating back to the 1840s, were actually caves (there are about 50 total) dug into the sandstone bluffs. silica was being mined in these caves. the silica was used for glass making at the time.

fast forward about 80 years…one of the various incarnations of this location was a mushroom farm developed in seven of the caves. the caves made a fantastic growing environment with its constant temps in the high 40s. it started out selling to local fine dining establishments but, at its peak. was being sold all over the world! other caves were used to make cheese and brew beer.

another incarnation was a speakeasy called the wabasha street speakeasy that existed in the 1920s during prohibition. it also had its own whisky still. in doing some research, it appears there were other speakeasies at various times at the same location. but wabasha street speakeasy seems to be the most well known establishment during that era.

In the 1930s, a restaurant casino/nightclub known as castle royal came into existence at the location. castle royal had a facade built into the bluffs to give the appearance of a storefront type look. at least it is my understanding that castle royal built the facade. if someone is privy to the history of the caves and i am not stating it correctly, by all means, chime in down in the comments below and share who did build it. it is still there to this day and is quite the site to see!

there are three pieces of castle royal’s "claim to fame" that i’ve found in research…

  1. this club received the first post-prohibition liquor license in st. paul. it opened just as prohibition was ending.

  2. quite famous musicians of the time played at this nightclub/restaurant including cab calloway, the dorsey brothers (tommy and jimmy) and harry james. tommy dorsey was also known for having frank sinatra as one of his vocalists. though frank was a vocalist with the harry james band initially, the rising ascent of his incredible career began with tommy dorsey.

  3. castle royal became a reputed favorite hangout for gangsters. the city of st. paul was a sanctuary for notable criminals such as john dillinger. the very short story is that st paul police chief john o’connor allowed the sanctuary as long as they didn’t commit crimes in st. paul.

there was another reason i wanted to pull in and try to make an image again at the wabasha street caves. parked in front of the facade was a 1930 hudson essex!

if you are impressed with my knowledge of cars, don’t be. I read it in one of the images displayed while searching. i’m pretty clueless when it comes to cars, even modern cars.

at any rate, i thought this might be a great opportunity to include a fun “accessory” to the caves as the car comes from the heyday of when the caves were most likely a “happening” place to be! music, dancing, gambling, eating, locals possibly hanging with mobsters; a classic pot of ingredients for the roaring '20s and '30s!

here’s something that might interest you as a side-note: it’ll give you another insight into what makes me tick. i love the era from the 1920s through the 1950s. i sometimes think i was born in the wrong era. but i can’t say i would want to live during that period. we have too many inventions that have made our lives quite nice by the earlier time period standards. air conditioning, tech gadgets, medical improvements…the list could go on and on. but i do love what came out of that earlier era.

for instance, the gorgeous and sleek styles of cars, appliances, etc. i have a 1940s rotary telephone that i actually used back when we had a land line (if you don’t know what that is, ask someone older 😂). it has a sort of art deco form to it and, as a bonus for this hearing impaired person, the analog sound waves coming through the ear piece made it a bit easier to hear and understand on the phone.

i said earlier that i was not a car aficionado of any sorts. but i love the looks and lines of vehicles that came out back then. it seems like great care was taken to develop a body that was "eye candy" at the least. i’m not saying that isn’t true today; but, for me personally, i certainly don’t find myself gawking over today’s body styles like the vehicles of yesteryear.

i collect some items from that time period though that is on hold for now for financial reasons. i collect christmas postcards, not just for the retro and beautiful art work, but it’s fun to read the correspondence that was shared back then. reading them gives a completely different tone and style than the way we correspond today. i also collect the older viewmaster accessories. i love the 3-d look of those reels. there is something about the the inserting of reels into the viewers, looking into a light source where the images come alive in glorious colors and depth and then pushing the lever to advance it that appeals to my sensory palate. it’s the same reason i have a fujifilm camera which has dials on the top to adjust as opposed to everything being done in a menu.

I could go on but that gives you a brief inside look into my predisposition toward older looks and styles. back to the wabasha street caves….

the sun was already setting; the location was beginning to be awash in gorgeous colors and mood. shadow and light was at play though shadow had the upper hand. what’s always interesting, and this is my own reflection based on my viewing experiences, is that the deeper and more prevalent the shadows, the more gorgeous light tends to be in the sunset (or sunrise for that matter). the shadow may be more prevalent but the light is always going to capture my eye.

here’s an experiment for you. the next time you have the opportunity to watch shadow and light at sunset, pay attention to what grabs your eye. is it the shadow slowly encroaching as day transitions to night or is it the light that seems to take on an increasingly lovely and painterly glow?

the car's purplish/maroon body seemed to grow richer by the minute. the yellow of the tire rim and spoke became even more saturated; it was so saturated in my image that i actually pulled the yellow back a little bit as it seemed too garish. to my back, sunlight was filtering through trees not seen in this image. behind the car, the leaves and portions of the facade were the recipients of that light, giving it that aforementioned painterly glow.

once i figured out my composition, i took a couple different exposures of the same scene, one at a slower shutter speed letting in more light and one at a slightly faster shutter speed letting in less light. i ended up choosing the faster speed as it lent itself more to the look i was after.

One of my favorite parts of this image that you will see is something that most people might not even think about. it’s the matching beautiful orange of the brick work you see above the grill of the car, the mulch and asphalt on the far left middle and the asphalt in front by the driver side tire. it’s such a little detail in the whole of the image but it’s one that my eye really likes.

here’s the image….

after i made this image, it was time to pack up my gear as i had another location i wanted to get to while the sun was still yet going down. my next stop was going to be at the majorie mcneely conservatory. i shared that image with you in the last blog i wrote. if you haven’t seen that one yet, check it out! here’s the link for it.

here’s a tidbit for you as i finish this blog. this was probably the quickest image shoot i’ve ever had! once i got to wabasha street caves, i was there for a total of nine or ten minutes! my wife would have loved being there with me! she doesn’t like to go with me if I’m going to be doing photography because i can spend a long time in one spot. it’s not uncommon for me to spend an hour or more in one general spot. not one location; one spot within a location! i may move around within that one spot to see if there are better compositions or if i’m missing something such as looking in another direction. but i’m still in that one general spot.

i may not always have a lot of patience in some areas of life. but in photography, i’ll take all the time i need to make an image. as with anything else in life, sometimes the end result is worth it; sometimes you just have to chalk it up as experience and move on!

if you enjoyed this blog, feel free to share with others! you can share via one of the social media icons below. you can also copy and paste the url above into an email or any other media of choice you like to use to share with others. i’d love to see more people have the chance to check out my blogs! if this is your first time reading one of my blogs, tic the page follow button or the post like button. you’ll get notifications every time i post a new blog which is roughly every two weeks.

i’d love to hear from you regarding this blog and/or image should anything come to mind. perhaps you have an era that is your favorite. tell me about it and why you love that era! i always read all comments and respond to them all. even if it’s a comment about something other than this blog and/or image, feel free to share the comment below. i’ll get back to you when i’ve had the opportunity to read it.

if you like this image and it is something you’d like to have for your home and/or business or to give to that special someone in your life, be sure to use the contact form and let me know what media you’d like to have it on. this image would be especially great for a person who is a car buff or likes the 20s/30s vibe! if you are not certain as to what media you would like this image on, i can certainly chat with you and help you figure out a photography art piece that will bring you years of enjoyment and be a conversation piece with others!

thanks for reading! i really enjoy writing and sharing images immensely! i’m privileged that you’ve allowed me to share them with you! i’ll be seeing you again with more “images from a quiet world!”

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Great writing Steve... liked hearing the Caves history and the interesting way you presented it. There was a time back, when I also liked to think I knew about cars, because I thought it was cool to be that way, but I knew very little.

I see a strong mood of mystery and drama displayed in your photo, heightened so much by the encroaching shadowy scenes, broken only by a few last rays of sunset. Love the way you only showed half the vehicle along with the cave entrance... a good balance of subjects.


stephen hadeen
stephen hadeen
Aug 23, 2022
Replying to

Thanks for sharing James. Initially I was disappointed at not sharing the whole car because of the sign on the last half window but it made for a stronger image as you also mentioned. Not my normal type of image but I enjoyed creating it!

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