PHOTOGRAPHING MINNESOTA COMMUNITIES remains a focal point of my photography. I love to document people, places and events with my camera.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
TODAY I CONTINUE my photo review of 2020, selecting one image from each month, July – December, to highlight here.
In JULY, our family escaped into the peace and natural beauty of the central Minnesota lakes region, staying in a guest lake cabin on property owned by a sister-in-law and brother-in-law. Our eldest and her family and our son joined Randy and me. There, among the towering pines and next to a lake, we delighted in watching loons and the resident eagles. We played in and on the water, dined lakeside, sat around the campfire, made smores and so much more. The first evening, when the 4-year-old granddaughter declared she was “too excited to sleep,” Randy and I took her outside in her pajamas to view the star-studded night sky. Love-filled moments like these imprint upon my memory, reminding me how important my family is to me.
Spring and summer brought voices rising in protest, in strong strong words that resonated with so many, including me. In the small town of Dundas in AUGUST, I photographed banners posted on the windows of an aged stone house. Thoughtful. Powerful. Necessary.
SEPTEMBER took Randy and me back to the family lake cabin for a second short stay, this time just the two of us. While en route, we stopped at Grams Regional Park in Zimmerman for a picnic lunch and hike through the woods. There I photographed a cluster of leaves. Autumn is my favorite season with its warm days, crisp evenings, earthy scents and hues of red, brown, orange and yellow. I never tire of looking at and photographing leaves.
In OCTOBER, the grandchildren stayed overnight with us and we took them to River Bend Nature Center. To walk, and sometimes run (with the grandparents trying to keep up). Again, it is the memories of time spent with those I love most that caused me to choose this image as a favorite.
A lovely afternoon in NOVEMBER drew Randy and me to the Cannon River Wilderness Area between Faribault and Northfield. With camera in hand, as always, I photographed leaves in the Cannon River, an image that holds the beauty of the season, of the outdoors.
Closing out the year, I photographed a line of decorated Christmas trees showcased in Faribault’s Central Park as part of the Drive-by Tree Display in DECEMBER. The trees later went to families in need. As the sun set, I aimed my camera lens toward tree toppers. I chose this photo because to me this shining star represents hope. Hope that comes in the new year as we leave behind a truly challenging 2020.
I want to leave you with one final message: You are loved. I discovered this message posted along a bike trail in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin, near our son’s apartment. When life gets difficult, overwhelms and threatens to take away your joy, remember that you are valued, that others care, that you are not alone.
COVID-19 DEFINED 2020. No question about that. Yet, even as many aspects of life changed, we continued onward, facing the challenges. The isolation. The separation. The very real effect the virus had on humanity—in the hospitalizations and deaths of family, friends, neighbors…individuals who loved and were loved. In the loss of jobs, and that includes job loss for me. In the loss of life as we once experienced it.
Through it all, though, I’ve continued to write about and photograph the world around me for this blog. In a more limited way, for sure. In a way that stretched me and grew me and focused my eyes and my heart on the simpler things in life. My appreciation for nature, something as ordinary as a walk in the woods, took on new meaning. Outdoors marked one place I could feel safe, distanced from COVID-19. Physically. Emotionally. Mentally.
So, it comes as no surprise really that my year-in-review photo picks for 2020 theme mostly to nature images. I scrolled month-by-month through my posts, choosing one favorite photo per month. Each image represents more than a scene or moment captured through my camera lens. Each represents a story, a part of my life. An experience. A gift.
Early FEBRUARY brought eight inches of snow in a single storm. And since weather shapes our lives here in Minnesota, I picked a photo of my husband blowing snow from our driveway for my February photo. It’s the perspective of this frame, taken while holding my camera low and angling it up, that makes this image.
As the months passed, I soon realized this thing—this pandemic—would continue. In APRIL, my granddaughter celebrated her fourth birthday, not with friends at an indoor play space, but rather on the driveway watching as her little friends passed by in their parents’ vehicles. Horns honking. Little hands waving. Randy and I continued to frequent outdoor spaces like Faribault Energy Park. Although located next to noisy and busy Interstate 35, it is one of my favorite local parks for the gravel paths, the ponds, the waterfowl, the flowers, the prairie grasses and other plant life.
MAY. In Minnesota, this month represents the shifting of seasons, the greening of the land, the eruption of buds, the dawning of warmer days. By May, I crave color. Paula, a native Minnesotan living in Holland, surprised me with a shipment of tulip bulbs in a pot. What joy. The bulbs sprouted and stretched at a rapid rate until soon buds formed and then popped in vivid hues. What a gift from a fellow blogger whom I’ve never met but have grown to appreciate through her writing and photography. She is a kind soul, down-to-earth and genuine.
My focus on nature continued into JUNE as Randy and I explored area parks and our ever dear River Bend Nature Center. At Falls Creek County Park just outside Faribault, I was surprised to find the creek running clear, not all that common in this part of Minnesota. So I aimed my camera downward to the creek bottom, capturing my June photo pick. There’s something about water…
In this year 2020, so much has shifted. My photos represent that change. Yet one thing remains constant—my love for writing and for photography. Thank you for reading Minnesota Prairie Roots, for appreciating the work I do here as I follow my passions.
Please check back for my year-in-review photo picks from July-December 2020.And, if you’re so inclined, please tell me what you most enjoy reading and seeing here on Minnesota Prairie Roots.
COVID-19 RANKS AS THE STORY of 2020, including here on Minnesota Prairie Roots. Since early March, I’ve photographed hundreds of scenes that relate to the pandemic. I’ve scrolled through my many COVID-themed posts to showcase a selection of images that summarize the pandemic’s effects on our lives.
For me, the most personal image is also a universal one. In early March, I visited my mom, who is in hospice in a southwestern Minnesota nursing home. I didn’t know it then, but this would mark my last in-person visit with her in 2020. The last time I would hug her, kiss her cheeks. For our seniors living in long-term care centers, 2020 brought isolation, separation from family and, for too many, death. The empty chair in this photo symbolizes the absence of family.
March also brought shortages. Of toilet paper. Of hand sanitizer. Of Lysol wipes. Of Tylenol. I stocked up on a few supplies. Just enough to get us by if we got sick and couldn’t get out.
Separation brought a new appreciation for technology with our family connecting via Zoom from the north metro to Madison, Wisconsin, to Faribault.
The deadly reality of COVID-19 hit home when the Rev. Craig Breimhorst of Faribault died in April, the first of now 52 Rice County residents to lose their lives to the virus. My heart hurts for all those who are grieving, some of whom I know.
Signs remind us daily of COVID, including messages bannered on the Paradise Center for the Arts marquee as theaters, restaurants, libraries, museums and more closed to prevent the spread of the virus.
Even playgrounds became inaccessible as communities roped and fenced off equipment (including at North Alexander Park in Faribault) to stop the spread of COVID. Since then, we’ve learned a lot more about the virus, with surface spread not the primary form of transmission.
In May, while watching a car cruise in downtown Faribault, I photographed a local walking along the sidewalk wearing a face mask. This is my “favorite” COVID photo. Simple. Yet powerful. Face masks, by mid-summer, became the norm. Yet, some still refuse to wear them, or wear them improperly, an ongoing source of frustration for me. Minnesota has a face mask mandate for a reason—to stop the spread of COVID and to keep us safe. Just wear a mask. And over your nose, please.
The pandemic changed how many of us worship. Randy and I have not attended church services since early March. When our kids learned we had been to Sunday morning services, they advised (told) us not to continue attending in-person. Our eldest remarked that she and her friends were struggling to convince their Baby Boomer parents of COVID’s seriousness. It didn’t take us long to determine just how serious this virus; we’ve attended church online ever since. In my hometown church, the pastor took to preaching from a hay rack. St. John’s now worships in-house.
High school and college graduation ceremonies also pivoted, mostly to virtual celebrations. In Northfield, Minnesota, the community honored grads with banners posted downtown. Some families still hosted receptions. We opted out, not wanting to risk our health.
Our sole social activity this summer was attending outdoor concerts in Faribault’s Central Park nearly every Thursday evening. It’s a long-time community tradition. We felt safe there with concert-goers distancing throughout the sprawling park. Some wore masks, like the couple in this photo, with a rope defining social distancing lines.
The annual Faribault Pet Parade in August also went on, but as a drive-through only. No masses of kids and pets walking in the streets. Randy and I watched, all by ourselves in our lawnchairs positioned along Fourth Street, and I spotted one vehicle with a COVID message.
For many, the cancellation of county fairs, and then the Minnesota State Fair in August, dashed any hopes that summer could retain any normalcy. Food stands, like this one at Ace Hardware in Faribault, popped up in parking lots and elsewhere.
In Northfield, the Defeat of Jesse James Days celebration scaled back. Randy and I walked through Bridge Square, where I photographed a solo guitar player strumming. It was a lovely September day, minus the overcrowding typical of DJJD.
September took us to the central Minnesota lakes region for a short stay at a family member’s guest lake cabin. While en route, we stopped in Crosby, where I photographed this distinctly Minnesotan masking sign.
In November, when the COVID situation in Minnesota went to really bad, I photographed a hard-hitting electronic message above US Highway 14 in Rochester, home to the world-renowned Mayo Clinic. Concerns about hospital bed shortages not only concerned Minnesota, but the entire US. And this was about more than just COVID.
One of my final COVID photos of 2020 was taken at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, posted there by the Rev. Greg Ciesluk, also a friend. His message puts the virus in perspective. As we transition into 2021 with vaccines rolling out, I feel hopeful. Truly hopeful.
This photo of a 1960s print can represent chaos. Or it can also represent diversity and how we are all connected by our human-ness. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
AS I CONSIDER THE EVENTS of the past week, thoughts and images flash. There’s so much to take in. The death of a black man in the hands of Minneapolis police. The protests that followed, initially violent but now mostly peaceful. At least in Minnesota. Scenes of buildings burning, looting, destruction. Crowds pulsing along streets and interstates. Police and National Guard massing.
I photographed this photo at an exhibit, “Selma to Montgomery: Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail,” at St. Olaf College in 2015. Those viewing the exhibit were invited to take Polaroid shots of the exhibit and add their thoughts. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.
And in all of it, the voices. Rising.
A vintage tray with a simple message. Peace. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo November 2015.
As I reflect on this, I think about the thousands of photos I’ve taken through the years that relate to the issues of today. And so I gathered a few of those to create a photo cloud of sorts.
Hands-on art created at July Family Night in Faribault to me symbolizes our diversity in the colors and patterns created by this young artist. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2019.
I share these in the spirit of humanity. Not to invite discord or to stir up political debate. I dislike conflict. Rather, let’s consider words like community, togetherness, positive change, peaceful dialogue, respect, justice, peace… Healing.
Photographed in August 2018 in a storefront window of a business in downtown Faribault, I appreciated this message showcased in my diverse community. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.
No matter our skin color, our faith (or not), our education, our backgrounds, we each have the ability to be decent and kind and loving.
Photographed at LARK Toys in Kellogg, these two words resonate with me. Be kind. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
I recognize the issues are much more complex and deeply rooted. But we must start somewhere.
Dancers at an Hispanic Heritage Month event in Northfield. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2019.
BACK IN THE YEARS when I worked as a newspaper reporter and photographer, this week marked a time of looking back on the past year’s news stories and photos. I paged through back issues of the newspaper in search of the most significant local events in our coverage area. And then I compiled a year-in-review feature for the front page of the weekly. More often than not, the selected stories were ones of tragedy and heartbreak. Such is the nature of hard news. Please don’t blame the messenger. It is a mistake I still attempt to correct when people complain about the news. Writers do not cause/create the news.
The tower of Shumway Hall at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault is beautiful no matter the season. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2019.
All of that aside, this year I found myself once again compiling a year-in-review, this time for my monthly photo essay, Through a SoMinn Lens, publishing in the regional lifestyle magazine Southern Minn Scene. When the editorial calendar called for the January/February issue to focus on the past year, I knew immediately that I would ferret out photos from my files to represent each month of 2019.
Spring blossoms along the Cannon Lake bike trail, rural Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2019.
That proved challenging and time-consuming as my files hold thousands of images. But I whittled down the selection, giving the editor options. The result is a mix of 21 photos with subjects ranging from personal to community celebrations, from art to nature…
My granddaughter, Isabelle. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2019.
In my photography, I aim not to present instagrammable moments, but to show authenticity, to tell a story. My granddaughter running across a grassy field, her curls flying, her long legs pumping. Waves rippling across a lake and lapping at the hooves of horses. Dancers in colorful costumes showcasing their heritage.
These horseback riders led their horses to the lake for a quick drink of water at Maplewood State Park near Pelican Rapids. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2019.
These images represent my life, my world, my Minnesota. The places and people and experiences that were part of my 2019, that held importance in my life for a moment. Or more.
THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT AN AGED pick-up truck… Perhaps it’s the agrarian connection or the nostalgic appeal. Or even the vehicle design that conveys comfort in its rounded shape.
Whatever the reasons, I am draw to vintage pick-up trucks. Randy, too. He wishes he owned one. And a 1964 Chevy, too.
But since we don’t and never will, I settle for visual enjoyment with my eyes and through the camera lens.
As I waited in the van recently for Randy outside a Vergas, Minnesota convenience store, a lovely old pick-up pulled up to the gas pumps. Without hesitation, I grabbed my camera, stepped from the van and snapped a few images of the portable piece of art temporarily parked at the pump.
And then I swung my camera the other way to photograph the store exterior because that appealed to me visually also with its welcoming front porch and log cabin style design.
Then we were off to find the world famous Vergas loon sculpture. And, as we passed through the business district, I snap-shotted the hardware store sign through the window. Because I have this thing about hardware stores, too, and about signs. Small town memories and art.
In remembrance of 9/11, photographed last September 11 in Hastings, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.
YESTERDAY BROUGHT TIME for reflection. Reflection upon the events of September 11, 2001, a day which forever changed us as Americans.
I reconstructed a tower using the same blocks my then young son and his friend used on September 11, 2001, to duplicate what they saw on television. These are also the same toy airplanes they flew into the tower. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.
The terrorist attacks on our country made us feel vulnerable, unsafe and realizing, perhaps for the first time that, just because we live in America, we don’t live in a bubble of protection from those who would harm us.
Photographed along Interstate 90 east of La Crosse, Wisconsin. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2011.
Yet, in the midst of that tragedy, that sorrow, that new reality, there emerged a solidarity. We felt united as a country, a people.
On the campus of Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, a plaque honors an alumnus who died in the World Trade Center attack. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2019.
Eighteen years later I no longer see that unity. I see rather a fractured country. That saddens me. The discord. The political upheaval. Even the overt hatred toward certain peoples.
Faribault, Minnesota, firefighters pay special tribute to the fallen New York firefighters on this memorial sign. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.
Yet, when I look closely, I see the care and compassion extended by many Americans toward those who need our care and compassion. We have always been a giving nation. I hear the voices of those who speak for those whose voices have been mostly silenced by rhetoric and oppression and policies. We are still individuals with voices that matter.
My then 8-year-old son drew this picture of a plane aimed for the twin towers a year after 9/11 for a school religion assignment. He was a third grader in a Christian school at the time and needed to think of a time when it was hard to trust God. To this day, this drawing by my boy illustrates to me how deeply 9/11 impacted even the youngest among us. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
That ability to express ourselves—whether through the written or spoken word, in music, in art, in acts of kindness—remains. Strong. We have the power individually to make a difference in our communities, to start small, to rise above that which threatens to erode.
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.
Me behind my camera. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
I NEVER IMAGINED upon starting this blog nearly 10 years ago that my photos posted here would be in demand.
But that proved to be true. I’ve sold photo rights to authors, businesses, tourism offices, marketing agencies, art curators, charities, media outlets and much more. That includes to museums.
I sold photo usage rights of this picturesque farm site just north of Lamberton in Redwood County, Minnesota, for inclusion in a museum video. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
I’ve yet to see my photos in any of the three museums which bought rights to specific images. Those include The National WW II Museum in New Orleans, which incorporated a southwestern Minnesota farm site photo into a video clip about a Minnesota soldier.
My Laura Look-A-Like Contest photo close-up. Photo courtesy of Laurel Engquist.
An overview of a section of the Laura Ingalls Wilder exhibit that included my photo, top right. Photo by Laurel Engquist.
A close-up of my photo posted at the Minnesota Children’s Museum. Photo by Amber Schmidt.
And in St. Paul, my eldest daughter photographed my photo of the Wabasha Hardware Hank posted next to the hardware store exhibit in the “Our World” portion of the Minnesota Children’s Museum. The Wabasha hardware store inspired the exhibit which invites kids to “don an apron, strap on a toolbelt, stock shelves and help customers.”
Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.
It’s an honor to have my work included in these museum exhibits. I appreciate when others find value in my photos. I’ve quickly found, though, that while some people want to use my photos, they don’t always value my images enough to pay for them. Too often I get inquiries to use my photos “for credit and a link.” Nearly every time, I decline the opportunity. “For credit and a link” doesn’t pay bills. “For credit and a link” doesn’t respect me as a professional. “For credit and a link” diminishes my value as an artist. If the individual inquiring about photo usage is being paid for work that will include my photo, then I too deserve to be paid. It’s as simple as that. And, yes, all of my photos are copyrighted. From the moment I create them.