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.

Dorothea Lange


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 months.


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, and publication.

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 press. Click here to order: Minnesota in Our Time: A Photographic Portrait.


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