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Through the Camera of Mike Bendtsen

Through the Camera of Mike Bendtsen

by Shelly Forster

I had been struggling for a month to write an article about Mike Bendtsen. It’s difficult to encapsulate anyone in a few short paragraphs and capturing the individuality of the owner of McGlinn’s Public House in Wenatchee was proving doubly hard. Frankly, a monstrous case of writer’s block had me locked in its claws.

Eventually my boss asked where the article was and why I had spent so many work hours doodling and throwing paper airplanes at him. “Ahhh … stalled out,” I confessed. “The battery is dead.” 

Saying that aloud was liberating. That’s when it occurred to me that there was no way an office monkey could create a genuine article about the wandering Mike Bendtsen – he’s one of the last people you’ll find in an office. It is nearly impossible, for example,to even catch him indoors at McGlinn’s (which he owns), because he’s usually out hiking and photographing nature. I realized I needed to be outside to capture his story so, grabbing my trusty Notepad, I headed down to the Columbia River where I planned to float in a canoe and write.

Soon I knew I was on the right track – as I dragged a canoe from the boat house, a frightened frog vaulted from the bow of the vessel. I chuckled, thinking that Mike would have loved it. The stories he tells through his photos often reveal the little unexpected twists giving color to familiar places or everyday events.

Photo: Patterns in the wheat. (Above Fancher Heights)

I paddled upstream and thought of Mike again as I rounded Walla Walla  Point Park. Just the night before he’d brought us one of his famous “Live from Paradise” sunset shots of the Loop on the McGlinn’s Facebook page, which practically has a local cult following.

Photo: Sunset over Porter's Pond.

I waged my paddle against a riffle. Each stroke gained mere centimeters and I thought about how this struggle was the antithesis of Mike’s Zen attitude. The canoe crawled past a couple of snickering fishermen and, in the calm beyond the riffle, I reaped the reward of a loaded mulberry. Again, I thought of Mike -- our first meeting was delayed when he cracked a rib on a mushroom foraging expedition. When we finally met, I promised not to make his bruises suffer from jokes, but the interview was still full of laughter and infectious good humor.

I slipped into the estuary channels of the Horan Natural Area, which were soft with white cottonwood tufts. I smiled, thinking of Mike’s wild gray curls, and of my boss’ description of going down to meet the owner of  McGlinns and encountering a long-haired man in sandals and shorts standing behind the bar. Yup, that was Mike.

Photo: Alien landing or Mike Bendtsen leaping?

The drops running off my paddle created bulls-eye ripples that reminded me of Mike’s still photos of rain on Clara Lake. Mike always hikes with his camera. It’s his way of recording  the “breadcrumbs” of a trip. Photography also forces him to think about finding something new in each trip, regardless of how many times he’s visited the area. Finally, a photography provides a tool for being playful and he often hints at the secret presence of the man behind the camera as he captures his hand, his shadow or some transient artwork he created on the trail.

Mike began photographing in earnest in 2011 when he and his son bought cameras and made a pact to learn to “play” them by shooting every day for a year. The project was addicting: Mike has now been shooting for 900+ consecutive days. His goal has been to tell his own stories and not to try to reproduce the beautiful but formulaic calendar pictures, many of which have an element of sameness to them.

To avoid falling into the pop photo trap, everything Bendtsen has learned on his camera has been through experimentation.  Although the McGlinn’s Facebook page often shows images that he expects people will like, his huge online gallery has many shots that are definitely quirky. Of course quirky can be beautiful too and I’ve gone through his photos to select 75 of my favorite shots. Most are beautiful, many are beautiful and quirky.

Photo: And then Saddle Rock devoured the sun...

Three years of photos rack up quickly, and Mike now has thousands of photos, which he treats with Buddhist-like detachment. He doesn’t digitally back them up, and when others ask to buy them, he gives away freely. When Howard Media Group asked to purchase a shot, he refused payment, recommending instead that they give a donation to the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust. When others ask what he plans to do with so many photos, Mike replies “Nothing. These were my moments.”

For now, he shares photos on the McGlinn’s page because he wants to inspire others to get outside, to notice beauty, and to have their own moments. His most common photo caption, “Live from Paradise”, usually accompanies shots of Wenatchee, that validate his belief that, in this landscape of rivers, mountains, forests, and deserts, we need not look far beyond our noses to discover awe.  To help others discover that natural wonder, Bendtsen sometimes hides McGlinn’s gift cards outside. Maybe his pictures and his bribes (the hidden gift cards) will open the eyes of a few.

Photo: And the walking tree walked.

And it appears that he has influenced some: Occasionally a letter or an email arrives saying the messages he has spread through the McGlinn’s Facebook community inspired them to change the way they lived. But I’m not completely sure this isn’t just made up because how would someone who’s never in an office know what a letter or an email said?


 The best way to know really known Mike Bendtsen is through his photos. Start out with the incredible shots we’ve pulled together for this gallery. If you like these, check out more of his shots on Smugmug. If a picture says a 1,000 words, then the 25,000 photos found here certainly aren’t suffering from writer’s block.


Photos: Little sun, big storm.