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the wonderful world of alleys

“the air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great, that i thought i was in a dream.”

― jack kerouac, on the road: the original scroll

alleys…for me, just the name seems to conjure up a sort of feeling of the unknown…an uncertainty…a mystery. alleys are different all over the world. interestingly enough, in my research, i discovered a type of alley called an arcade that…you know what? i’m going to included a link to a wikipedia page about alleys. it’s a rather fascinating read; not only about the definition of alley but the types all over the world.

there are alleys that have a more hidden and mysterious aura. sometimes seedy and gritty, sometimes dimly illuminated both by natural and manmade light, they are a world unto themselves. all around them, the hub of humanity is humming along living life out in the open world. but in these alleys, the atmosphere can seem almost hushed, a sort of reverential quiet where few seem to enter unless by need or mistake.

then there are alleys where a sea of humanity flows through such as marketplaces. such alleys are usually well lit and the atmosphere is charged with motion and noise. there is no place for the claustrophobic here! it is like a melting pot of every kind of human moving in all directions and, sometimes, no direction at all depending on the density of the throng at the moment.

they run the gamut. check out the wikipedia link above for different kinds of alleys if you didn’t already. it really is a fascinating read.

i find alleys rather fascinating myself. i haven’t done a lot of exploring alleys in minneapolis and st. paul to this point. but where i have explored has been a great creative exercise in making images in those alleys. as well, it’s always been at night thus far. i have a full-time day job which partly contributes to that and alleys at night add a bit of intrigue that is enticing to me. some require a heightened sense of being aware. if it doesn’t feel safe, i won’t go in them. when i do choose to walk in and through them, again, my senses are heightened. my eyes are open as they are my ears. i won’t hear things but i can see things. i walk confidently and don’t show any signs of timidity. i especially keep a tighter grip on my tripod stand in case it needs to be used. it’s all about common sense. to this point, i’ve not encountered any alleys whose inner sanctum i’ve entered that have harbored any people, much less any kind of threat. but…i remain acutely aware every time.

i’m not aware of any alleys in either city being more of an arcade (shopping type alley) though there might be some. it would be fantastic to come across some of those to make images in. perhaps you, as the reader, might be aware of some. feel free to share them in the comments below. i’d love to check them out!

this image is the first alley i have ever made an image of. it had become a sort of mythical quest for me to find it. i had heard about this red fire escape in an alley as well as seen some images of it but never where it is located. it set a fire in me to find it. as i searched over time on the internet, i finally came across a clue about a former business that used to be near this alley. I then looked up where this business used to be located. with that tip in hand, i was able to find nearby streets and the general location where the alley would be.

i set out one night in search of it. after a few wrong alleys, i walked into this one alley and saw the legendary fire escape; well, legendary in my mind! the alley was very dimly lit. it was gritty looking and full of textures. cobblestone pavers, old architectural features as well as brick and stone, a single outside light and a couple light sources shining from inside the building at the end of the alley…all contributed to an atmosphere that, if my eyes were color blind, would have seemed out of a film noir. and then, i saw the mythical object itself! standing out with its pop of red color, it rose up the side of the building at the end. it zigged first here, then it zagged there and did one more zig back to the top. it had landings at four doors with three of them boarded up.

constantly looking over my back to make sure i wasn’t being approached, i worked out some compositions and fell in love with this one. it is a longer exposure so the three light sources as well as ambient light from behind me helped to bring out the overall gritty feeling of this scene.

to date, this is my best selling image. while i have sold different landscape and cityscape images, this is the one that i sell the most of currently. whether they live in the city or outside the city, one of the comments my customers share is that it really represents an element of the city that speaks to them. they say it is a very compelling image with the perspective (low on the ground) and all the surrounding elements in the image that work together to make a cohesive whole. it’s an image that has truly reached the broader spectrum of the populace that has visited my booth at shows.

this next image, while about a year old, is only the second time i’m sharing it publicly. i’ll talk about the first time in a minute. i held back on this image as i knew something was special about it but it just wasn’t quite jiving with me like it did when i first made the composition in the moment. after going back to it time and time again for about a year, my wife was actually instrumental in helping me figure out the issue.

if you have read my previous blogs, you may remember in one of them i shared i almost always shoot wider to include more of the scene. this allows me to crop them, if need be, for a more impactful image. some people do all their cropping in-camera on the location; i do not. i want all options to be available to me. i’ve made images cropping in-camera and regretted it as, once cropped in-camera and the shutter button is pushed, it is set in stone. unless another image was made with a wider field of vision, you can never get it back. even if one goes back to make another image, the magic of the moment might be one you cannot recapture.

well, a simple crop was all it needed. after explaining to my wife that this image just wasn’t impacting me the way it did in the moment a year ago and her asking me what were the focal points that led me to make this image, she suggested a particular crop. it was rather tiny in what was removed but it made a big difference. it can be amazing what a tiny change can bring to an image! that particular crop brought back the feeling of excitement i had when making this image! i had a large 28x36 image printed for the st. paul holiday bazaar show last december and it was the first art piece i sold that weekend! that was the first time it was publicly shared. and now, i’m sharing it in this blog.

this alley is called loring corners. you can partially see the name in the shadows on the building to the right toward the top. called the fawkes building and built in 1911, it housed the first automobile showroom in minneapolis. the park next to the building (central park then but loring park now) housed mansions built by the wealthy. the bricks on this alley road were replaced (i don’t know if all or just some) roughly ten years ago as they had deteriorated but the old style and look was kept.

being one of the older alleys in the minneapolis area, it exudes, to me, the feel of an older european alley of sorts. at night, it gives off a rather romantic vibe. a smaller detail that really added loads of impact to this image is the cathedral tower kind of peeking into the scene. this cathedral tower is st. mark’s episcopal cathedral. It was built in 1910.

the final image in this series of alleys is my newest image. made last month, it was one i discovered while making images in st. paul one night. as i was walking back to my vehicle after making said images, i noticed an alley. i decided to check it out and walked it. lo and behold, it is quite the lengthy alleyway! it is actually an alley which traverses for roughly half a mile in between the back entrances for many old and prestigious homes in that particular st. paul location. as i walked the whole length of it, i realized it was also where garbage trucks pull through to pick up the residential garbage cans. i have no idea how they fit through there in some places. my vehicle would barely fit through some spots! i’m guessing some of the garbage pickup is done on foot. granted, with the snow piled up, it may be bigger than it looks.

it’s a very cool alleyway to walk through. it is also in a residential area so it is of utmost importance that respect and quiet be exhibited throughout. if this blog and coming image raises a curiosity in you to check it out, please…be respectful and remember that this a residential area. actually, always be respectful any place you explore whether in the city or out in rural landscapes!

i captured this image using a zoom lens. it’s was a fine line to make this image. there are objects that can obstruct the view with just an almost infinitesimal amount of repositioning. to get this whole image required me to be further back than where it seems like i am standing. but standing that far back brought in too many elements i didn’t want in the image. i zoomed in but still kept a wider field of view for this image (remember i want to keep the crop potential?) while keeping out other distracting elements. “zoomed in but still kept a wider field of view”…that is certainly a contrasting statement 😂!

i had to make some choices as i simply was not going to be able to get all the elements i wanted in full view. one such choice was to allow the upper portion of the cross on top of the church dome to be partially obscured. it wasn’t crucial enough to be fully present, for me, in order to gain the added impact of other parts of the image. i finally came to the conclusion that i wasn’t going to be able to get everything i wanted in the image by making only one image. so this image is actually two images merged to create a small panorama. i then cropped just slightly to remove some unnecessary elements.

there are so many things i love about this image! there is depth of field going through the image. the light and shadows throughout the image plays a major role in that. i love the glow of the street lamp next to the street sign. looking directly into the light with a smaller aperture created light beams as well as a flares that extend up a bit into the darkness. i’m not normally a fan of flares (which is different from beams) as they usually bring out colors and shapes that are rather disruptive in my opinion. however, i was able to minimize them and i think they work well as a continuation of the beams shooting out. if you look in the dark parts of the sky above the lamp post, you may or may not be able to see them.

i also love the mood and feel that this image projects. it has a slight mystery feel throughout. i love the architecture of the garage toward the back of the image with the towering chimney stack. i love the rising progression of the light sources starting with the lamp post toward the foreground, the light source hanging from the telephone pole in front of the chimney stack and the cathedral of st. paul light sources. i love the textures throughout this image. in my mind, i remove the telephone poles and this easily could be an image from the late 1800s or early 1900s when horse and buggy was still the primary mode of transportation. it wouldn’t surprise me if that garage with the tall chimney stack was a sort of carriage house at the time. there were other garages that looked like carriage houses along that alley as well. this is definitely one of my favorite images to date!

alleys definitely have a character and mood of their own. many of them have stories that, if they could talk, would certainly be stories i would love to sit and listen to. but who would have thought such locales could be beautiful and visually appealing in their own right? i can’t wait to see what other alleys, tucked away from eyes focused on the moment at hand, have to offer those willing to step off the fast and chaotic highway teeming with humanity and onto a slow and quiet path where some might find new discoveries!

have you ever been in an alley, wherever it might be, that moved you in some way? whether it was just creepy, mysterious, alluring, beautiful, whimsical, etc. and harboring lots of character, share about it in the comments below. I’d love to hear about it. maybe you’ll intrigue me enough that i’ll want to check it out for myself! you are also welcome to share any comments related to this blog, images or whatever might have came to your mind when reading this blog.

these images lend themselves to being showcased as larger pieces within the home and/or business. as such, i’ve kept them at the sizes that i print them at for shows. here are sample representatives of each including one where two are hanging in a space to show how that might look. i will be posting them soon to my galleries and online store.

"red fire escape" - 24x36 framed and matted print

"loring corners" - 28x36 framed and matted print

"maiden lane alley" - 28x36 metal print

"maiden lane alley" and "loring corners" 28x36 metal prints

i’d love for others to enjoy reading my blogs as you have been. please consider sharing this blog with someone or several people who you know would enjoy reading it. it’s very simple to do - copy and paste the url at the top of this web page into an email or any social media of your preferred choice. you also have three options to share found at the bottom left of this blog. simply click on one of them and it’ll get you started to sharing this particular blog.

i really appreciate your continued support of my photography and blogs. i wanted to let you know of another way to show your support for this month. april 28 through april 30, i will be at the union depot in st. paul, mn for the 2023 spring art crawl. i’d love to see many of you there if you are in the area or within driving distance. here is a link to the event that you can check out for more information…

again, thanks so much for your support and i will be seeing you soon with more “images from my quiet world”!

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Thru my husband I too am becoming a fan of these ally's. I grew up at the beach in Southern California and loved roaming the ally’s as a teen.

stephen hadeen
stephen hadeen
Apr 05, 2023
Replying to

I never realized you did that as a teen. I learned something new today!

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