Exploring Visual Arts across Madison
Nov 6, 2013
A Truly Cool Project
While this is the time of year I try to avoid hearing the terrible “s” and “f” words—“snow” and “freezing”—a photo essay published in the November issue of Madison Magazine makes a strong case for a beautiful side of winter.
Photographer Mike Rebholz captures images of ice fishing, from the colorful shanties that appear on Madison-area lakes as soon as the first freeze hits around Christmastime, to the people who congregate on the ice to talk, eat, relax and perhaps catch a fish or two until the season ends in early March.
I asked Rebholz a few questions about his ice fishing series, 10 Weeks.
How did you come up with this project?
It came about by accident. I go out and photograph every New Year’s day. [Years ago] I was driving across the Lake Monona causeway just after ice up and I saw a plywood shack. I went on my way but then turned around. I took three photographs of the thing. That day it was really foggy—the lake had iced up and then it rained. I went home, had dinner and checked the photos. They were really cool. Overnight it became cold and clear and slick. I went back out to photograph more.
Where do you usually take the photographs?
You rarely see people out on the big lakes. A lot of my work is off Governor’s Island, and it’s about a mile walk on the ice.
What draws you to the subject matter?
I really fell in love with being out there. I found it to be really nice. It can be freezing on land, but when you get out there, it’s not so bad. Part of what attracted me to the project is how idiosyncratic it is—how Upper Midwest it is, how no two [shanties] are alike.
You get to know people. It is this entirely provisional community. [The lake] ices up and these guys are out there. They tend to cluster together … And it’s not all men; it’s about thirty percent women. I’ve met engineers, a chef … These guys take what they know and apply it to these microscopic structures. Really, it’s about the community—though there is a certain thrill to catching a big fish.
Are you going to continue the project?
I am going to go this year. Last year, I started doing audio interviews [with the ice fishers], and I’m going to do more audio this year. I’m in the initial stages of putting together a book.
Photo courtesy of Mike Rebholz.