tart berry, a top Wisconsin product, celebrated in lavish photo book
A coffee table book with luxurious photographs of cranberries in all of their possible shapes and forms followed by scrumptious-looking images of appetizers, main dishes, side dishes, salads, and desserts – all with recipes – was the farthest thing from Wayne Martin’s mind when he embarked on a five-year journey that resulted in Cranberries Revealed – From the Marsh to the Table … a visual journey (Martin PhotoMedia, LLC: Plymouth, Minn., 2015).
No, in the fall of 2009, Wayne, a commercial and corporate photographer, decided that he wanted to experiment with the medium. He had read an article about a photographer named Ryuijie. Ryuijie had taken botanical specimens, placed them in water, froze them, and then started shooting. Wayne was fascinated with those images – almost impressionistic – of flowers, ferns, and the like, frozen in time.
But, what to photograph?
Well, how about cranberries?
Wayne had grown up in Wisconsin Rapids, the heart of cranberry country in Wisconsin.
And, heck, on a paper route as a kid, he had gladly imbibed tart-and-sweet-at-the-same-time cranberry juice from a dispenser at the Wood County National Bank where he took his route money every week.
His mother also had worked part-time sorting berries in a cranberry processing facility to supplement the wages of his father, who worked in a paper mill, the other mainstay industry in the area.
Well, they’re colorful.
They’re also a sturdy fruit.
The result of Wayne’s experiment is spectacular as evidenced by the cover of the book, which at first glance, looks like rare, Chinese, hand-painted porcelain. Only after opening the book and reading Part One The Art and Beauty of the Cranberry do you realize that these are cranberries photographed in ice. And for a different effect, he sliced and diced the berries, and arranged them in interesting patterns.
In one of those rare or perhaps not so rare coincidences, Wayne found himself in October 2010, high above the cranberry marshes of his hometown, riding in an ultralight aircraft, which Wayne describes as “a lawn chair on a stick.” Exposed to the elements, his feet nearly froze despite layers. And, forget changing out lenses as his fingers were so cold that he was afraid he would drop one of the lenses into the marsh below and it would be lost. Forever.
“The experience was exhilarating,” he exclaims. “There was the harmonic convergence of a slow wind speed, a sunny day with clear blue skies, beautiful fall colors, and water temperatures warmer than the air that caused the steam and fog to rise for an ethereal mood. Everything came together that day.”
And thus began Wayne’s journey for the second part of the book, Cranberry Culture: The Marsh, The Harvest, and The Processing. He made connections to additional growers, which enabled him to take photos high above from a helicopter; in the marsh itself, where he recorded the harvest; and finally back on the ground, in the processing facilities where the cranberries are initially dried and sorted. A special sorting device called a Bailey Mill separates the good berries from the bad ones by culling off the bad berries that don’t bounce. Later they are more closely inspected by hand – actually the human eye. He also met an organic cranberry grower, Brian Ruesch, who sells his organic berries to the Willie Street Co-Op in Madison. He even showed Wayne a patch of wild cranberries on his property.
As he was sharing prototypes of the book for review, “Women consistently asked me where the recipes were,” he comments. “I had not planned on doing recipes, but based on the feedback, I knew I had to.” His path for the third part of the book, Cranberry Inspirations The Recipes, was set. He secured the Wisconsin State Fair cranberry recipe winners from the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association and Warrens Cranberry Festival recipe winners. And, through a friend who works as a food photographer for General Mills and Hormel, he learned the craft. And not only did he shoot and style the food, he actually made each recipe and taste-tested it afterwards. “Each recipe took about two days to do,” he says, “from concept to buying the ingredients for the recipe, getting the accessories to style the shoot, actually making the recipe, and then setting up the lights, figuring the best angle to shoot it at.”
Wayne never earned a degree in photography, although he took many college photography and art courses and attended numerous professional workshops. He graduated from UW-Stevens Point with degrees in history and Spanish with the intention of being a teacher. After graduation, he decided to move to Madrid, Spain, to teach English, and his brother-in-law gave him an old 35mm range finder camera. He took along a pocket tripod, and he found that, “Holy Cow! Photography is kind of fun.” Upon his return to his home town, he joined the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune for a few years. Then, he traveled west and worked for community newspapers in Portland, Ore. Later he earned a master’s degree in media technology from UW-Stout in Menomonie. From there, he joined Prudential Insurance in Minneapolis as an AV producer and photographer. He made the leap to start his own photography business in the early 1990s, when Prudential experienced a series of downsizings.
The book is dedicated to his mother, the cranberry sorter. She saw a prototype of the final version before she passed away in 2013, and was pleased with the result. Wayne acknowledges 22 friends, family members, cranberry growers, and others, who, without their help, the book would never have happened. Last but not least are his family: wife Anne, now a retired teacher after 40 years, and his two daughters: Katie and Kelly, both in their 20s.
“I’ve never done a book before,” he concludes. “And I don’t know that I will ever do a book again. But I do know that as a photographer, I did this my way. I was inspired by the cranberries. I made a book with my creative passion. And, now people are buying my creation, and that’s pretty cool.”
Wayne Martin will discuss and sign his book, Cranberries Revealed, from 6:30-8:30pm Tuesday, Sept. 22, at The Volume One Gallery, 205 N. Dewey St., Eau Claire. To learn more about the book, visit cranberriesrevealed.com.