Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Urban photography April 18, 2019


CITYSCAPES INTRIGUE ME, for many reasons. But primarily visually.



Metro scenes differ vastly from the rural scenes I typically photograph. Rural equals a visual simplicity. Metro, overall, offers more chaos, more distractions, more color and variety. That’s a generalization. Chaos can be found, too, in rural, simplicity in urban.



Photographers always comes to photography with backgrounds, experiences, perspectives that influence images. We edit as we shoot. At least I do.





On a recent trip into the Twin Cities metro, I shot a series of images as Randy drove along Snelling Avenue. I’m unfamiliar with the area but noted banners identifying St. Paul’s Hamline Midway district. I observed, too, the cultural diversity of businesses.





And I thought about that, how I grew up in rural Minnesota among all Caucasians with the only differences whether you were a town kid or a farm kid, Catholic or Lutheran. I am thankful that has changed in some rural areas of Minnesota. Not all certainly.




I remembered that thought hours later when guests began arriving for my granddaughter’s third birthday party. Izzy’s little friends and their parents are a mix of ethnicities. And for that I am grateful. She views her world through a kaleidoscope. Not a single, focused lens.




FYI: I invite you to click here and view the work of award-winning New York City photographer and blogger Keith Goldstein. He does incredible street photography, primarily portraits. Keith offers glimpses of humanity. I love to study his images, to see people and places that differ vastly from rural Minnesota.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


10 Responses to “Urban photography”

  1. Audrey- I love that area of the Metro! There is always something interesting to see, to capture the eye, a sense of community. There are some great cafe/coffee places along there too!
    Maybe, I enjoy the diversity so much as I also grew up in such a white community of rural Minnesota. I would read about all the wonderful places in the world and when I started experiencing the world as an adult it was exciting to see new things and experience people from different cultures and backgrounds. It is amazing what we all can learn when we expand our own horizons outside our own personal lives.

  2. Almost Iowa Says:

    I look at this from a completely different angle.

    I grew up not far from where those photos were taken and I remember going to the store where my mother once worked on Selby and Dale and hearing dozen languages spoken in the course of a day.

    I recall the immigration of African-Americans into the city during the 50’s and 60’s from the rural south. And let’s call it what it was, immigration because even though those folks spoke English, their culture, their attitudes, even their style of religion was very, very different.

    Later, waves of Vietnamese arrived, then the Hmong and later Central Americas, and all this dramatically changed the character of the city.

    In 2009, though I still worked in Saint Paul, I moved to Blooming Prairie, MN and later to a little dusty ghost town not far from Austin.

    Out here in the country, most of the folks are white. They look the same, they talk the same and one might say, they think the same. Though in Austin, it is very different. At church, we are all pretty much the same – (other than me, the guy from the city).

    But I don’t see that as a problem. I value monoculture, the same way I value cultural diversity. If one were to think logically, culture forms in monoculture. Without monoculture, you would not have diversity – because you need sameness and isolation to become distinct.

    In other words, everyone being the same and thinking the same is how unique cultures form in the first place.

    On the physical level, it is how different genetic pools develop unique traits.

    Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not arguing against having many people from many lands as neighbors – but what I am saying is that when you have a little town of white people who are all pretty much the same, VALUE THAT.

    Don’t wish it away.

    • Here’s the thing I appreciate about you, Greg. You always offer insights that make me think. You’ve lived in both settings and that affords you a perspective I don’t necessarily possess. I certainly value monocultures and all those small towns out there. I don’t want anyone to think that I don’t. But I also see value in varieties of people.

      • Almost Iowa Says:

        I certainly value monocultures and all those small towns out there. I don’t want anyone to think that I don’t.

        Oh goodness me, I certainly did not want to leave the impression that you did.

        But some people do.

        Like I said, I grew up in the city but during my college and later, I got to know a lot of my peers who grew up in the suburbs – and who hated it. They grew up in housing tracts where all the houses were basically similar, where the shopping strips were all the same, where their Great Generation parents valued conformity. They thirsted for change and diversity. It is one of the things that powered the counter-culture movement and manifests itself today in an eagerness to diversify cities.

        Another factor was the civil rights movement.

        Face it, our country has a checkered history of dealing with people who are different from ourselves and I think in large part, some of this eagerness to diversify is to exorcise the ghosts of our past.

        So we want to enrich our lives and purify our past – but in doing that there is a temptation to devalue our own culture and traditions and to magically think that we can enjoy all the benefits of diversity without accounting for the costs.

        One of the costs of diversity and immigration is ethnic tensions. They made a movie about it in the 50’s called West Side Story. It was about immigrant Poles and immigrant Puerto Ricans fighting in the streets of New York. It was dramatization of the very real clashes between cultures.

        As a guy who grew up in the changing ethnic nature of a city, I saw a lot of that. As a guy who worked in law enforcement for 30 years, I recorded a lot of that.

        It is just part of the program.

        So I am not saying, don’t do it. What I am saying is that those who champion diversity should think deeply about what they are doing and why they are doing it and that they go into it with eyes wide open and a plan.

        This is not what I am seeing.

    • Gunny Says:

      Almost ~ Good post and well worth consideration and I agreee

      • Almost Iowa Says:

        My views on immigration are like this:

        Back when I lived in Chaska, I set out on a training run to prepare for the Winter Carnival Half-marathon. As I passed the hockey rink, I saw about forty Guatemalan Pentecostals holding church services on the ice. It was well below zero and they were kneeling.

        Frankly, I don’t care about language, ethnicity, religion or culture, anyone who has the discipline and devotion to kneel on the ice on a bitterly cold day can be my neighbor and I would be proud to work with them.

        Maybe we could swap them from some Americans who aren’t so nice. :):) 🙂

  3. We hope to see some of these scenes summer, as we are trying to plan a trip driving through your beautiful state.

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