Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photo shopping in New Prague May 2, 2017

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A front window at Vintique in downtown New Prague. The shop specializes in vintage Czech jewelry and in vinyl records.

A front window at Vintique in downtown New Prague. The shop specializes in vintage Czech jewelry and in vinyl records.


WHEN I SHOP, it’s sometimes with my camera. I’m shopping for photo ops. Most of the time shopkeepers are OK with me photographing inside their businesses as they recognize the value of media exposure. But occasionally I encounter a resistant merchant. Not that that happened while snapshotting these scenes. I photographed outside the shops, thus no permission was needed in a publicly visible place.


It was the mannquin peeking from behind the sign that prompted this photo at Vintique.

It was the mannequin peeking from behind the sign that prompted this photo at Vintique.


I just liked what I saw in the windows of the antique and music shops in downtown New Prague.


I mean, how fun would it be to play one of these guitars. Yes, I pumped up the color saturation a tad because, well, I just could. Call it artistic license.

In a music store window…


I mean, how fun would it be to play one of these guitars? I pumped up the color saturation a tad because, well, I can. Call it artistic license while photo shopping.

TELL ME: Do you notice window displays? What appeals to you in a display?

Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling



Snapshotting Northfield on a Sunday afternoon in April April 25, 2017


THE TEMPERATURE ON THE FIRST National Bank of Northfield sign flashed 68 degrees. Sixty-eight glorious degrees on a Sunday afternoon as sunny and beautiful as they come in southern Minnesota in April.


Unhooking a fish and fishing in the Cannon River by Bridge Square in the heart of Northfield’s downtown.


Daffodils, accented by curly willow, make a simple art statement in planters scattered throughout the downtown area.


Lots of downtown Northfield restaurants offer outdoor dining, including here at The Hideaway.


Everywhere people ranged in this river city. Bikers, outdoor diners, walkers, anglers, an auburn-haired child navigating across grass sprouted with dandelions, a woman smoking a cigarette in a doorway, an elementary-aged boy drawing an owl in a sketchbook, a line of families waiting outside a dance studio, college co-eds walking in pairs…


Poetry is imprinted in downtown sidewalks, this poem across a side street from Bridge Square.


Randy and I meandered the river walk, pausing to talk with a biker couple from Hartland asking about Froggy Bottoms, a riverside eatery. We chatted with the red-haired toddler’s mom who admired my camera and shared her passion for photography. She does the social media photos for her and her partner’s BlueNose Coffee in neighboring Farmington. We traded business cards and wished each other a good day and I thought how warm and friendly this young woman with the beautiful baby girl.


MakeShift Accessories is one of my favorite downtown Northfield shops given its creative uniqueness.


In all the times I’ve visited Bridge Square in downtown Northfield, I’ve never noticed the Civil War Monument topped by this eagle. This time the adjacent fountain was turned off, shifting my focus to the memorial and not to the water.


Handwritten notes on business doors always amuse me.


Reaching the end of the river walk, Randy and I circled to Division Street, slipping into the occasional business to peruse gifts, antiques and art. As we strolled, I paused to snap photos of whatever caught my eye. A haphazard collection of images.


Toys were corralled in a wagon outside a downtown Northfield antique shop.


The James-Younger Gang robbery of the First National Bank draws many visitors to Northfield. The original bank now houses the Northfield Historical Society and sits across the street from the current bank.


On the side of the historic bank building are holes ringed in black, supposedly marking bullet holes made during the bank raid.


Had a company party not drawn us indoors to a pizza and sports bar, I would have lingered longer outdoors, gathering with my camera those details, those Northfield scenes that perhaps remain unnoticed by too many.



The window of a barbershop across from Bridge Square.


One of two murals on the Northfield Union of Youth building.


Another mural on The Key (youth center) building caught my eye.


© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The generational magic of the holidays, as seen through my camera lens January 3, 2017

Three generations: my mom, my eldest daughter and my granddaughter.

Three generations: my mom, my eldest daughter and my granddaughter.

MY HOLIDAYS HELD magical photographic moments, mostly because of my granddaughter, just days shy of turning nine months old.

Isabelle is so accustomed to Grandma and her DSLR Canon that she crawls toward me whenever I have my camera in hand. So I try to be quick and sneaky, not always possible with an active baby.




But I managed, at a family holiday gathering this past weekend in southwestern Minnesota, to photograph some special moments. I’m always seeking to document emotions, interactions and everyday life. Posed portraits also hold value.




I aimed my lens toward my mom, in her eighties, and her connection to her great granddaughter. I love watching the interaction between the two generations and observing my own daughter as a loving and caring mom.




Often I found myself crawling and chasing after Izzy, sometimes placing my camera on the floor to get her perspective. That resulted in my favorite shot of the weekend—Isabelle crawling while her daddy and grandpa watched from the next room.




Grandpa also thought he should teach his grandbaby to maneuver the stairs. She’s a little too young for that. But that didn’t stop Izzy from pausing at the base of the stairway to imagine the possibilities. Stairs appear particularly daunting from a baby’s perspective.


Santa visits with my mom and my niece.

Santa visits with my mom and my niece.

As always, Santa showed up at the extended family holiday gathering to parcel out candy, humor and questions about naughty and nice. All ages landed on his lap, earning a moment of Santa’s full attention.




There’s something magical about that—when, for a brief span of time, we all believe in Santa Claus.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A photo moment: Two ladies buying squash November 29, 2016



AS A PHOTOGRAPHER, I strive to document, to tell a story, to record moments and emotions, to photograph people and places and events. Succinctly stated, I desire to present life. As it is.

Nothing gives me greater satisfaction in photography than capturing candid memorable moments. Yes, I take posed photos. But I prefer not to. So if I’m cruising with my camera and someone alerts others to my presence, I typically stop photographing. I want to be unseen. Just there. Blending in. Not always easy to do with a bulky Canon DSLR camera slung around my neck. But I try.

Recently I was rewarded with one of those prize shots while photographing at Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store, in Jordan. A moment of everyday life right there, outside the signature yellow building along US Highway 169.

Two elderly women were shopping for squash as if it was the most important thing in the world on a weekday afternoon in October. And to them, it was important.

I had one chance to photograph them. I love the results—the joy and concentration on their faces as they peruse the squash. I notice the clothing. I can’t recall the last time I saw a woman wearing a kerchief. There are details, too, of oversized purse (not bag) and cane in hand.

I note also the care the merchandiser takes in marketing the squash with historical information, flavor notations and graphics.

The subject of this image is not extraordinary, newsworthy or remarkable. It’s simply ordinary. Everyday. Two ladies buying squash. And therein lies its value to me as a Minnesota photographer.


Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store is now closed for the season and reopens in time for Memorial Day weekend.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Follow-up: When a camera dies June 25, 2015

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Three of the cameras from a vintage collection of cameras once used by my parents and me.

Three of the cameras from my collection of cameras once used by my parents and/or me.

IF PHOTOGRAPHERS never embraced change, they would still shoot with an old Brownie or a Polaroid or some other camera long ago obsolete.

That said, here’s how I handled the recent death of my Canon EOS 20D. I wrote about the unexpected demise of my DSLR in a late February post. That story generated great discussion and input, some of you encouraging me to challenge myself with a much-upgraded camera. Others suggested I stick with what I knew.

In the end, after trying a Canon 7D and much stress and agonizing over its operation, I purchased a Canon 20D from my friend Lee. It’s exactly like my old one except for the telephoto lens that came with this used camera. Lee was happy to get his unused 20D out of basement storage, thus solving my problem.

I can almost hear the uproar, the outcry, the “Oh, she could take much better photos with a better camera.” True? Perhaps from a technically perfect perspective.

Too much camera for me. For now.

Too much camera for me. For now.

But the bottom line is this: Focusing on the operations of the camera—worrying about f-stops and ISO and shutter speeds—stressed me and took the joy out of my photography. I lost my passion and artistry. Rather, I thought mostly about settings that would assure I had enough light or correct depth of field, or whatever I needed to even take a decent photo. I admire photographers who can handle all of that without flinching.

I suppose in time, I would have learned. You can argue that. I already had the basics down from my days of shooting with film. Just trying to operate the newer 7D, I learned more about the manual options on my 20D. That is the good that came out of this.

I used this camera as a teenage.

I used this camera as a teenage.

But the single thing that this Death of a Camera reinforced for me is that it’s not always about the camera. It’s about how you take photos (perspectives and angles and composition, etc.) and the subjects of your photography and lighting that create memorable images.

Like a writer, a photographer has a voice.

What is my voice? It is, like my writing, down-to-earth detailed and about a sense of place. Rural and small town Minnesota (mostly). Close-up. From a distance. The people who live in this place. I strive to photograph that which others pass but don’t truly see. I strive to connect you, via my photos, to this place I love. To the ordinary, which is often the extraordinary.


© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
My photos are copyrighted and may not be reproduced without permission. If you are interested in purchasing rights to use my images, please check my “About” page for contact information. I am grateful to the individuals, ad agencies, authors, charities, magazines and others who have found value in my photos and purchased rights to use selected images that meet their needs. 

Most of all, I am grateful to you, my readers, for appreciating my photography.


Minnesota Faces: A Dairy Princess June 12, 2015

Portrait #27: Kaylee Wegner


Portrait 27, Kaylee Wegner


That young people are still interested in agriculture pleases me, for I grew up on a southwestern Minnesota dairy and crop farm.

While I left the farm for an education and career in journalism, youth like Kaylee Wegner have remained true to their rural roots. I’ve known Kaylee, a classmate of my son, for a long time. She’s smart, poised, confident, driven and passionate about agriculture. This fall she begins her senior year at South Dakota State University, pursuing a bachelor of science degree in dairy production.

I last spoke with Kaylee in June of 2013 when her parents, Ron and Diane (about as salt-of-the-earth wonderful people as you’ll ever meet), hosted “A Day on the Farm” at their rural Faribault acreage. Kaylee and her older sister, Brianna, were there, too, actively involved in the event that drew some 600 visitors. Kaylee, then a Rice County Dairy Princess, posed for photos with a calf and kids. I could see how much she loved promoting the dairy industry.

Since 1937, June Dairy Month has been an annual tradition celebrating all things dairy. When you pour yourself a glass of milk, order a cheeseburger or enjoy an ice cream cone, think of Kaylee and all the other young people who still care about, and are the future of, agriculture.


This is part of a series, Minnesota Faces, featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Minnesota Faces: A teen and his cat May 29, 2015

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Portrait #25: Ian

Portrait 25, Ian and Zephyr


He loves physics and raw asparagus. Or at least Ian did when I met him in 2012. I expect he still does.

A year later I saw Ian again, at his family’s rural acreage south of Worthington. I remember how my friend Gretchen welcomed us with such enthusiasm, noting that she was thrilled to have dinner guests. My husband and I were happy to spend an evening with my blogger friend, her husband and their three children. They are a delight.

Ian and his sisters toured us through the family’s 10-acre wooded and hilly creek-side property while their parents prepared dinner. Dad at the grill, Mom mixing salads. The kids clearly love their oasis in the middle of southwestern Minnesota’s prairie farmland.

These are a talented group of siblings—into theatre and music and more—and just great kids who are friendly and kind and polite.

As the evening ended and we prepared to leave, Gretchen and I simply had to have photos. I commanded a snapshot of myself standing with the sisters in the middle of the gravel road running past this family’s home. That put me with one foot in Minnesota and one foot in Iowa. Yes, they live on the border.

Ian wasn’t game for that shot, but the then 14-year-old did pose with the family cat, Zephyr. The lighting was perfect as was Ian’s pose. There’s something about this image that is sweet and timeless, that speaks to appreciating the moments of life, to simpler times, to the unencumbered spirit of youth. I expect, I mean know, that Ian is growing into a fine young man.


This is part of a series, Minnesota Faces, featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling