Surface Tension: Beauty and Fragility in Lake Michigan

A collaboration, Nelson W Armour and Ted Glasoe

It’s a beautiful summer day in Chicago. The sun beats down on the azure waters of Lake Michigan, the fifth-largest lake in the world. Gentle waves lap the sands of a beach. Puffy clouds drift across the sky. But no one is in the water. The lifeguards stand watch over an empty beach.

Why? Because raw sewage has fouled the water. It was released into the lake after a torrential rain overwhelmed the storm sewers. This scene has become all too common along the shores of Lake Michigan and much of the world's water supply.

But untreated municipal sewage overflows are only one of the threats to the health of our lake. According to the Alliance for the Great Lakes (, other major areas of concern are nutrient runoff/algae growth, pollution from petroleum refineries and other industries, pharmaceutical pollution, and invasive species.

So we are faced with an uncomfortable conclusion: Lake Michigan is a beautiful, vast, life-sustaining natural wonder and, at the same time, it is under silent siege from pollution and other perils.

In Surface Tension, we explore these opposing realities.

Ted Glasoe’s poignant photographs of Lake Michigan invite us to contemplate and appreciate the lake’s power and its ever-changing moods, textures and colors. These are juxtaposed with Nelson Armour’s photographs of the lake, which have been altered to unsettle the viewer’s sense of beauty. These multilayered images reveal the unseen forces and traumas that threaten this magnificent natural resource.

Surface Tension, a metaphor for the world's water, confronts viewers with the reality that the world's water is a finite precious resource, forcing them to reconcile the outward beauty of Lake Michigan with the dangers that lie beneath the surface.

To explore this project, click here.