I found out it was one man’s body of work for over a decade…it had some sort of historical value…I started to realize it was very interesting and nobody had seen this work before…

Mike Makes

Photographer, The Negative Rescue Project

We connect again with Mike Makes, longtime collaborator of La Crosse Local including the upcoming Cooking with Bao series, Garage Sessions, and more. Currently, Micheal has his hands full with the The Negative Rescue Project, we jump into the found photography project and find out the unique process on uncovering lost forgotten film.

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Transcript

Amy Gabay 00:00
This podcast is brought to you by People’s Food Co Op, a community owned grocery store in downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin and Rochester, Minnesota that promotes local farmers and producers through an emphasis on fresh, healthy, sustainable food. Anyone can shop, everyone is welcome. For more information, visit them online at PFC.coop. This podcast is also brought to you by Trempealeau County Tourism. Whether your idea of fun is bicycling, hiking or canoeing, afterwards head into the heart of one of their welcoming communities to experience historic architecture, independent shops and locally owned dining establishments. Visit Trempealeau County Tourism online. Artspire is back with a full weekend of art at the Pump House Regional Arts Center. Enjoy live music from Cloud Cult, Bill Miller and B2wins, plus a fine art fair, interactive art projects, and visual and performing arts June 10th through 11th. Learn more at artspire@thepumphouse.org. We connect again with Mike Makes, longtime collaborator of La Crosse Local, including the upcoming Cooking with Bao series, Garage Sessions and more. Currently, Michael has his hands full with the Negative Rescue Project. We jump into the found photography project and find out the unique process in uncovering lost forgotten film. You can find more conversations, food reviews, live music and events on our website lacrosselocal.com. I’m Amy.

Brent Hanifl 01:30
And I’m Brent.

Amy Gabay 01:30
And this is La Crosse Local.

Brent Hanifl 01:33
So the Negative Rescue Project, you know I’ve been following along here for the last couple of months. What is it about?

Mike Makes 01:38
So the Negative Rescue Project I started back in almost a year ago now back in April. And it was I started collecting a bunch of film stuff and a guy gave me a 30 pound box of glass and like film negatives. And pretty much I didn’t know what I was going to do with them, I had no connection to them by any means. I ended up going through them. And I found out it was one man’s body of work for over a decade, just over a decade. And it was really interesting. A lot of it I thought had like some kind of historical value. And after going through more and more of it, I noticed he went to places like Niagara Falls, Duluth, he went all around Wisconsin. There is a box where he goes to California, I just started to realize that it was really interesting. Nobody had ever seen this work before. And it’s of a time that there aren’t a ton of photos for because it was early photography. So I kind of took it upon myself to learn how to restore both the film and the dry plate negatives, and kind of research who this man was.

Brent Hanifl 02:41
For the sort of novice, like myself, I guess with photography, so when you say glass, what does that mean? Are we talking like the big cameras or the big lights? Like, what are we talking about here?

Mike Makes 02:50
So I actually have a photo of one of his cameras, and they’re not super huge. It’s a four by five glass plate. four by five inches. So they are big, they’re very fragile. They go through a slightly different process than regular film. I don’t know how to develop them. Actually, I’ve never actually had to develop glass plates, but one day, that might be an aspiration. They’re just very fragile and hard to deal with. So for me, I’m just not at that level.

Brent Hanifl 03:16
Just checking out the images that have come out of this. I mean, it looks like there’s at your website, an offshoot at mikemakes.com, there seems to be hundreds of these, you know. What was the sort of impetus for you to kind of dig into this and really kind of like, you know, it looks really intensive, like you’re spending a lot of time kind of piecing these like pieces together?

Mike Makes 03:36
For me, I don’t know, I felt like I needed a hobby over COVID Even though I was already doing other stuff. But this was something where I was gonna pass it off to someone else. I was gonna give it to archives around the nation because there was UW of Milwaukee was interested. There was UW Madison that was interested. The Wisconsin Historical Society was interested. And then like the offshoots like Duluth, Niagara Falls, some other people were interested, but they wanted to tear the whole thing apart. And they wanted to take just what was related to them. And for me, I wanted to keep it all together as one giant body of work. And so that’s why I kind of took it over as an undertaking. And it was something for me, I wanted to learn how to be able to restore that stuff in case I ever do shoot glass negatives in the future. It was more of like learning how to use a scanner. That’s kind of a boring task, but at the same time, already scanning in my own film negatives, I had to learn how to like calibrate a scanner, learn the best ways to scan glass versus film. I don’t know it just became interesting to me, especially the person who I got them from he was an old photographer for the La Crosse school district. And he retired, he was getting rid of all of his film stuff, and he had received the box from a lady named Harriet. And Harriet turned out to be the photographer’s daughter and the photographer. I didn’t even say his name yet, his name is Arthur J. Kron. Well she passed, she passed way, I think it was around 2008. It was somewhere between 2002, 2010, I don’t remember the date offhand. I was just surprised that it sat in her storage in a basement for years. And then it’s sat in his attic for years. And then it just happened to fall upon me untouched for like 30 years from him and probably 40 years from her. So they were in surprisingly good condition, even though they weren’t, you’re supposed to keep it some temperature sealed and all this other stuff. But surprisingly, they were all in pretty good condition. Besides like a handful, I have a few that were broken, I’ve broken one. And there were a few that have, like, they got stuck to the boxes because of just moisture and whatnot. But I figured out how to claim those, so.

Brent Hanifl 05:45
So you kind of just touched on this next question, but I mean, was there anything that really sticks out of your mind, that’s really unique about this project that just has blown you away?

Mike Makes 05:55
I think the fact that it’s decade’s worth of work, like the fact that there’s just this much. It’s over 1000, some negatives, I’ve currently posted just somewhere around 240 of them, I believe. The kind of the thing that’s insane to me is I mean, I have my own body of work. But it’s all digital, you can find it online, you can do whatever. But the fact that this many of one person’s collection exists from 1903 to 1914 is insane. To me, most of that stuff would just be destroyed, it’d be in a landfill, it’d be broken just in the trash. So the fact that it just exists is just a really cool concept.

Brent Hanifl 06:32
Also kind of following along since you started this project. It seems like you’ve gotten a lot of coverage and a lot of excitement about it. How does that feel?

Mike Makes 06:39
It’s been pretty cool. I didn’t know how to share this project at first, because it’s just kind of a weird project. And so I ended up going into Facebook groups, because some of the boxes have labels, some of the boxes do not and some come with no cards, and so I can get like a base knowledge of what it is. But some stuff. I’m like, I don’t know what that building is. So if I know it’s Milwaukee, I can just post into Milwaukee Facebook group, and I’m like, hey, what is this and people get engaged, they talk to me about it. They’re like, hey, here’s these old city maps, who the photographer was, here’s where he lived, this might be his house. And the first time I really got coverage was I went to one of the sets. It’s like 100. And the Niagara Falls project, though it’s numbers 51 to like 130 something. The Niagara Falls photos that I found, I started posting those into Niagara falls into different Niagara Falls Facebook pages. And those people just went insane because Niagara Falls has gone through a very big shift in its time. There’s a bridge I have that does not exist anymore, collapsed due to ice that was like in the 70s, I believe. And then there’s an entire chunk of Niagara Falls that doesn’t exist anymore, because it broke off at a certain point. Everyone wanted to help me they wanted to know where he went, he went to a bunch of different towns around Niagara Falls. And then somebody shared it, and a news person found it at WGRZ News in Buffalo, New York. And some of the photos are from Buffalo. So they made a news story about it, I got interviewed by them. And then all of a sudden my page went from like 200 followers to just under 900, which was a pretty big jump, all of a sudden. I know that 900 isn’t huge on Instagram by any means. But for me, I was like, oh, people are interested. So now I’ve expanded it. It’s been on Instagram since the start, I did create a page on my feed on my website called mikemakes.com/thenegativerescueproject. And then I also recently created a Facebook page, because there’s a lot of older population who doesn’t have Instagram, and they don’t know how to talk to me. So it’s easier for them to just follow me on that page. And when I post photos, they’re like, oh, this is this building. This is this person like so it’s really interesting, because one is more for discussion, one is more for viewing and one is just an entire catalog of everything I’ve done.

Brent Hanifl 08:58
Yeah, I mean, it is an intensive catalog, you have everything from old news clippings to you know, you’re putting stuff on maps where a lot of this stuff is located, ongoing updates, quite a big chunk of information that people can go through. I know you’re a big fan of all things, cameras. What’s next for you? I mean, I could see a couple 100 cameras behind you. What’s coming up?

Mike Makes 09:19
Well, at least for the Negative Rescue Project, I’m currently looking at creating a book. There’s enough stuff for at least the Niagara area that I can create a Niagara Falls book, there’s been a lot of people asking if I would release something like that. I have to go back through the photos and do like a finalization of like cleaning and whatnot because some of them some of the negatives, I’ve cleaned a bunch, some of the negatives I didn’t clean as much just depended on how interested I wasn’t it. But so for me, that’s kind of where I want to go, I want to do a book, maybe a series of books. It just depends on how long it takes me to learn how to make a book, and then yeah, so because that’s kind of what I do for Mike Makes, it’s whatever I’m interested in. So if I end up starting to go that direction I’ll start making a book currently otherwise, we’re just still kind of trucking on through with at least for the Negative Rescue Project. I’m still just cleaning negatives learning more things, kind of just expanding my like the awareness that this project has to other people. I recently started reposting in Milwaukee and so people are all in arms just being like share more of this, we want to see more of this. Currently, I’m doing the Miller Highlife Theater, it was the Milwaukee Auditorium, when it was first built. And now it still stands. It’s been through a bunch of renovations. Everybody that sees them, they’re just like, I didn’t know that this is when it started. This is whatever, like the buildings in the background do not exist anymore. So I could ramble on for a long time about that. But a book about Niagara Falls, a book about Milwaukee would be a nice thing going forward with just the rest of my camera stuff. I’m starting to do camera reviews about just weird niche cameras that I have, or just weird film that I have. And that’ll be going on my Youtube. Eventually, I’ve kind of started that with the Negative Rescue Projects. And I do want to do more Negative Rescue Project deep dives where I cover a chunk of some of the stuff that he took photos of that I can like research a lot more. Like I said, there’s the Milwaukee Auditorium, there’s Niagara Falls, at some point, he takes a lake trip where he goes up to Duluth, and across Lake Superior, and then over to Michigan. So that’ll be one that I probably cover in the summer, because I do want to visit those places and kind of do before and after shots. Just have a ton still to cover. I still have I think I estimated about 1000 negatives, and I’m maybe 1/4 of the way through it.

Brent Hanifl 11:36
That’s crazy. So you kind of mentioned you’re basically I mean, you can basically just Google Negative Rescue Project and you come up with the top searches, but you know, if someone wants to find out more, what’s the best avenue to kind of sprawl out from there?

Mike Makes 11:48
I guess it just depends on whatever people use. On Facebook it’s just at The Negative Rescue Project. On Instagram it’s @thenegativerescueproject. If you go on Google and just type in the Negative Rescue Project, you’ll get it like you said. However people want to communicate and help me out. If it’s just look at the photos and comment on Instagram. Cool. If it’s on Facebook, and you want to have a discussion, Facebook is a much better place to have a discussion because you can leave comments and really reply and talk to a bunch of different people. Otherwise, just send me an email. People have been reaching out to me about expanding the project beyond Arthur Kron and doing other ones and some people have been like, hey, I have a suitcase full of negatives. Do you want these? Currently, I’m not at the capacity to do that. But I think that’s a very good avenue for me to go eventually. So email, Facebook, Instagram.

Amy Gabay 12:41
La Crosse Local Podcast is a production of River Travel Media. Do you have an interview idea you’d like to share with us? Message us on Facebook at La Crosse local. Find out more about us at lacrosselocal.com and you can subscribe to the La Crosse Local Podcast on your favorite podcast app. If you like us, rate us five stars. We appreciate it.

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About La Crosse Local

La Crosse Local is an arts, food, and entertainment podcast and publication for La Crosse County and its surrounding communities.

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