Blyth Meier gallery says good morning to "a city of discoveries"
It all began with a single photo: an image of Ivan Mestrovic's "Immigrant Woman" in Cathedral Square Park.
Back at that time – March 2012 – Blyth Meier worked for the Milwaukee Film Festival managing the marketing for the then 4-year-old event, and she was tasked with keeping the two-week fall film bonanza in people's minds for the other 50 weeks of the year – among other, more personal missions.
"We got a lot of feedback in the early days when we were going out to the Ridge and the North Shore that people were scared to come Downtown," Meier recalled. "I kept thinking about that as I was walking through Downtown everyday from Riverwest to the office, thinking, 'This isn't scary; this is really beautiful!' I don't remember why, but I started posting photos. And it hasn't stopped."
Indeed, it has not.
More than 1,100 photos later – scattered across multiple camera phones and hundreds upon hundreds of Instagram posts – Meier continues to greet the day with a "Good morning, Milwaukee" and a black-and-white image of some piece of the city's architecture, from familiar landmarks to something as mundanely beautiful as the garage going up next door.
Beginning Friday night, a few hundred – 203, to be exact – of those lovely and lovingly captured photos will graduate from being posted to Instagram feeds to being posted on gallery walls with the opening of "Blyth Meier: Good Morning, Milwaukee" at the Portrait Gallery Society, located on the fifth floor of The Marshall Building, 207 E. Buffalo St.
Receiving its opening reception at the same time that night – from 6 until 9 p.m. – at the Portrait Gallery Society is "Art Elkon: A Social Forever," a tribute to the beloved Milwaukee art figure who tragically died of cancer in August last year but left behind a treasure trove of naturalistic photos of the city and the people around him on his computer and his popular Facebook page. The combination of the two shows craft a mesmerizing collage of the city with images printed out for the first time, never before seen beyond the frame of a computer or phone screen.
"It's so satisfying," Meier said. "I love objects, so it was really sad but also happy for me that I remembered that I wanted to print stuff out again. I want to print more … of everything," she laughingly added.
Meier originally received her master's degrees in art and film at UWM, but after quickly being hired by Milwaukee Film to handle marketing, she was concerned that her study and passion would be lost, forced to the back burner, by her livelihood. However, her position at the organization, the advent of social media – especially Instagram – and the advancement of quality cell phone cameras combined to create a "godsend" for Meier, an outlet to "continue to do my work while I was earning a living – which is really difficult in this town."
"I just couldn't do it anymore; a 35 millimeter or the new digital SLR, all of that just became not possible in my life," Meier explained. "So when I got a phone with a camera, I was like, 'Oh my god.'"
Luckily, the city around Meier offered her plenty of material, as well. At the beginning, she would take photos of most anything interesting – the aforementioned Cathedral Square sculpture, a sandwich board, some nice flowers – but Meier soon focused her lens solely on the architecture of the city.
"I love that it's old and new," she said. "Milwaukee's done a really good job of preserving its old architecture in a way that a lot of other cities don't. I mean, the fact that we spent so much money on (the City Hall building) when it should be sinking into the ground is amazing."
Even after leaving Milwaukee Film in late 2014, Meier continued the project, posting a new black-and-white architectural photo every weekday – plus a few weekends – with her warm morning greeting. Sometimes she'd drive out of her way for a particular shot or image in her head, but for the most part, the photos are just captured from her daily commutes to work or elsewhere. And miraculously, each one is taken and posted the day of, not banked up from a previous trip around the city.
"Instagram meant instant," Meier explained. "It was like that was magic of it, that immediate reflection of what was going on."
The resulting gallery culls down her massive 1,100-plus photo collection – stretched over two phones and several computers – to just a few of her favorite 200 shots, chronologically organized and put into rows. Some of them have particular stories or special meanings behind them – a shot of the Harley-Davidson Museum, for instance, comes from her birthday, which she shares with a Harley-loving cousin; a Café Corazon photo also comes a birthday.
Some capture hidden gems or tucked away treasures of the city; others are iconic Milwaukee landmarks – like Miller Park, though taken from a slightly unexpected perspective. There's one particular popular building, however, notably – and purposely – missing.
"I never want to take a picture of the Calatrava," Meier said. "My brother's an architect, so we talk about the architecture, and we're always like, 'Yeah, it's good, but it's not like the thing that represents Milwaukee. The Calatrava is a nice icon, but it's not all of Milwaukee."
While that building for her is "Milwaukee for tourists," Meier believes the random assorted pieces of architecture she's captured over the years represents the true Milwaukee, one that's constantly unfolding and revealing new elements and beauty to those willing to look.
"Milwaukee is such a place where you have to dig," she noted. "A lot of places, you can go downtown, and you're like, 'Oh, this city's great,' but Milwaukee is such a city of neighborhoods and of these discoveries, and that takes time. That takes wandering."
Well over a thousand photos into her project, are there any concerns that Meier's discovered all there is to find and wandered as much as one can wander?
"I'm from Grand Forks, North Dakota – it's a town of 40,000 people – so I know what it's like to run out," Meier laughed. "This is not that place."
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