Creativity–one step at a time

Photographer’s 90-day adventure leaves mark

Photo Courtesy of David Ralph Johnson
This photo taken on March 2 by David Ralph Johnson shows the change of season on the downtown Stillwater stairs. Johnson walked the stairs for more than 90 days and took multiple photographs each trip to show both the views and the changing seasons of the St. Croix Valley

It started on a whim.

David Ralph Johnson’s quick trip up the Stillwater stairs on Main Street before heading to work was fueled by curiosity and caffeine. Little did he know it would start a 90-day creative adventure.

Johnson, of Star Prairie, Wis. had never climbed the stairs until that day. After that, there was no going back.

“I am a photographer; always on the lookout for such a look out. This view certainly qualified — the Commander grain elevator across the way; Main Street warmly lit; the Stillwater lift bridge in all it’s glory, and the St. Croix River winding away in banks of oak. Prime photo stuff,” Johnson said.

After catching his breath a thought popped into Johnson’s head and he decided to take photos from the lookout for 90 days snow, rain or shine. He later extended the mission until the bridge closed down.

“I do these things when I get it into my head usually,” Johnson said. “That’s how I ended up on the bluff. I’d gone since February, though the bridge closing brought it to an end.”

His photography shows the change of seasons and captures the mornings as they appeared. Johnson said his collection has various perspectives, morning light, and the grain elevator is a prominent figure in his work.

“It’s got a romantic feel to it, with its connection to the railroad,” Johnson said.

Throughout this creative adventure Johnson managed to do other things besides take photos.

He reconnected with old friends and gained perspective.

“I had a friend in my junior year of high school and one morning Chuck came walking up to say, ‘Hey David’ and I hadn’t seen him for years,” Johnson said. “He was on a walk. He had just completed cancer treatment and it was huge news for me. But it was a really nice reunion and it was completely unexpected. It was a nice perspective-giving experience for me.”

Johnson also might have had a brush with the supernatural.

“My wife and I were looking at my photos one night of the Commander (the grain elevator) and we noticed a ghost in the window, though it could have been a really cool reflection as well. We haven’t seen it since that shot in my other photos,” Johnson said.

Johnson also got into shape. He says he can climb the stairs non-stop now, which is something he couldn’t do on his first try.

“It was a fun experience and Stillwater is such a wonderful town to have an adventure like that,” Johnson said. “When I did walk through I took pictures of around town too.”

One of his photos sold at the St. Croix Art and Culinary Show auction for $500. When asked what he plans to do with the rest of his collection, he said he didn’t know quite yet.

“That’s a good question. I’ve never had such a large collection of the same subject.”

He has since decided to put them on his website in date-taken order and see what happens from there. More of Johnson’s work can be found at: