Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Ten minutes in downtown Northfield January 19, 2021

I love walking along the Cannon River in the heart of downtown Northfield, Minnesota.

PHOTOGRAPHING MINNESOTA COMMUNITIES remains a focal point of my photography. I love to document people, places and events with my camera.

This image seems so iconic Americana, hearkening back in time to places like fictional Mayberry. This barbershop is across the street from Bridge Square in Northfield.
I don’t know the symbolism of this graphic art, photographed above a doorway.
Northfield always does a great job with window displays, including this holiday-themed one.

My photos present visual stories. I suppose you could say I am both the writer and the editor. I choose what to photograph and how. I decide, in the moment, whether to show you a detailed up-close subject or whether to cover a broader area. Both are important in storytelling. I also decide the perspective from which I will photograph. Down low. Eye level. Or some other angle.

I found this add-on structure to a kitchen ware retail shop and upper level deck charming. This is on the back of the building.

During a recent visit to Northfield, one of my favorite Minnesota communities about a 20-minute drive away, I had exactly 10 minutes to photograph before our food order was ready for pick up on the other side of town. I asked Randy to act as time-keeper. When I’m photographing, I lose all track of time, so engaged am I in the creative process.

Bundled up to walk the dog at Bridge Square on a cold winter afternoon in Northfield.

We parked near Bridge Square, the heart of downtown Northfield and a community gathering spot. On this late January afternoon with the temp not quite 20 degrees and with COVID-19 reducing the number of visitors to this typically busy downtown, I observed only a few people out and about. Often finding a place to park proves challenging. Not so on this Saturday.

The historic Ames Mill sits on the banks of the Cannon River across the river from Bridge Square.

We walked toward Bridge Square, adjacent to the Cannon River. Turning the corner off Division Street, the wind sliced cold across my face. I knew that exposing my fingers to snap the shutter button of my camera would be numbing. My mittens, which open to finger-less gloves, help. I’d highly recommend these if you work a camera in a cold weather environment like Minnesota.

The backs of buildings can prove as interesting as the fronts. My eyes were drawn to the sign and to the brick buildings.

For the next 10 minutes, while Randy walked ahead of me—I always lag when I’m photographing—I concentrated on the half-block square area around me. The signs. The buildings. A woman and her dog. The river.

Northfield residents, businesses and students at its two colleges often express their viewpoints in publicly-posted signs and art.

In this short segment of time, I composed a short story, or at least the beginning of one. With these minimal images, I show you history, nature, voices. A glimpse in to the heart and soul of Northfield. This brings me joy, this ability to follow my passion, to share with you these visual stories through my photography.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


15 Responses to “Ten minutes in downtown Northfield”

  1. Mr. Craves states I need a sign attached to me when photographing that states “makes frequent stops” – ha! I spent some of my teenage/young adult life visiting Northfield and probably miss the river and the library the most. Great Captures – Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

  2. valeriebollinger Says:

    Fun photos of a great town. Maybe I should try highlighing Northfield with photos sometime. HA

  3. Norma Says:

    I wish I had pictures of the small town of 1400 people, where I spent the first 20 years of my life . They are so vivid in my memory but so difficult to describe to anyone. I loved that little community.

  4. Norma Says:

    Yes, Audrey. I would love to experience a snow storm. The first time I experienced a real thunder storm was over 30 years ago at my daughter’s home in Mississippi. It lasted all night, and was so exciting. We’re having some terrible windstorms, north from Redding all the way down to So. Cal. The power companies have turned off some power, but not here in Bakersfield. If some of those electric wires go down, there is a real danger of fires. It is so terribly dry. We have had only a little over an inch of rain since May. I go now with prayers for our Country, and our new President.

    • Oh, my, that is reason for concern with only an inch of rain since May. That’s unbelievable. We had about two inches of snow today and I spent 1.5 hours shoveling our drive and walk and that of a neighbor.

      Our country and the new President are also in my prayers. And I will add your region of California to my prayers, that you will get some rain to end the fire danger. Be well.

  5. Elizabeth Says:

    Hi Audrey, I’ve been enjoying following your blog for a while now. I grew up in Northfield but now live in Los Angeles and it’s nice to see your Minnesota photos, especially since I wasn’t able to travel this year. I can’t remember how I first found your blog but it’s been wonderful to see so many of the Minnesota scenes I grew up with!

    • Elizabeth, how sweet of you to write and share your appreciation of my blog. Thank you.

      I’m curious as to why you moved to LA.

      • Elizabeth Says:

        Audrey, I moved to Los Angeles at age 18 to go to college there. My father taught at Carleton College for many years and I logically should have gone there, but at 18 I was itching to see what life was like in a big city, having lived in Northfield my whole life. I remained in Los Angeles after graduation, and would visit my parents (still in Northfield) very frequently, until my father died and my mother moved to Texas to live with my sister.

      • Elizabeth, I understand the itch to leave and experience life elsewhere. For me, that was leaving rural Minnesota and my hometown of 350 for college in the “big city” of Mankato.

        It sounds like you still hold a deep appreciation for Northfield, the place that shaped you.

        I’m sorry for the loss of your father and thankful your mother is with your sister.

      • Elizabeth Says:

        Thanks Audrey! I do indeed appreciate Northfield and my Minnesota upbringing! I look forward to more of your photos and writing. 🙂

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