A PHOTODOCUMENTARY LEGACY
Documentary photography records the social scene
of our time. It mirrors the present and documents for the future….
It is preeminently suited to build a record of change.
The year 2000 marked the end of a century and a millennium, an appropriate
and auspicious moment for an examination of our own place and time. To that
end, members of the history, art, and photographic communities worked on
a project to document life in Minnesota during that period of rapid change.
The Minnesota Historical Society project’s goal was to compile a research
and exhibition collection, giving future generations a window on our lives.
Had such a project been undertaken at the turn of the previous century,
our image record of early 20th century Minnesota would have been greatly
expanded. The guiding question for this project was: What can we show to
give posterity a more complete picture of our people and our world?
The Minnesota 2000 project showed ordinary people and ordinary places
that reflected the lives and concerns of people in the state. What we noticed
in reviewing historical photo collections was a lack of images of people
and places which were typical but unrecorded. This project intended to show
more than was covered in the past, and with practiced and informed eyes.
How could we show this?
In order to insure that the record would be most informative and of highest
quality, participating photographers were chosen by a jury of recognized
curators, scholars, and photographers from the area. The project solicited
proposals from the large and talented community of Minnesota photographers.
Careful project selection insured an archive with the greatest significance
in the 21st century and beyond. Twelve outstanding proposals were funded.
With guidance and feedback from project advisors and subject specialists,
each photographer carried out his or her project over twelve to fourteen
What was chosen?
Six projects began in 1997. Mark Jensen documented small independent businesses
and their owners, some of whom were newly arrived in the United States.
Terry Gydesen photographed retired Minnesotans who go South for the winter,
commonly known as “Snowbirds.” Chris Faust made panoramic photographs
of landscapes and activities along the Minnesota River. Wing Young Huie
showed new immigrants settling into small Minnesota communities. Keri Pickett
chose teenagers as the focus of her project. Peter Latner depicted Minnesota
towns in a project he called “Main Street, Minnesota.”
Six more projects began in 1998. Joseph Allen worked in the Twin Cities
Native American community. Thomas Arndt showed life around Minnesota’s
lakes. Stephen Dahl documented workers in contemporary technology. George
Byron Griffiths was concerned with the ways we raise and educate children.
David Heberlein concentrated on tourists in Minnesota State Parks. David
Parker documented workers in a variety of industrial situations.
What was the result?
One inspiration for this project was the Farm Security Administration
(FSA), the New Deal photo documentary project of the 1930s. That undertaking
produced an extraordinary body of images of everyday life during the Depression
that today provides tremendous detail about lives and places of the time.
In retrospect, the collection reveals the significant changes America has
undergone in sixty years. This national treasure is forever available to
the American people through the Library of Congress for research, exhibition,
The Minnesota 2000 project secured thirty exhibition-quality prints from
each of twelve photographers. These 360 prints are housed as a special collection
within the Historical Society’s Fine Art Collection and the Society
owns rights to the use and reproduction of these images, making them widely
available for every citizen of the state and beyond; for a nominal reprinting
fee, these images are available for a wide range of purposes, from History
Day student projects to national traveling exhibitions.
In addition to the archive, an exhibition at the History Center in St.
Paul occurred from January through June of 2000. Finally, a publication
featuring the images was produced by the Society’s highly respected
here to order: Minnesota in Our Time: A Photographic Portrait.