I sat up in the middle of the night thinking about Plainview, Minnesota. Plain-view. The name itself is a poetic challenge to a photographer to make an image that isn’t plain.
It had been a rough night of sleeping, because I had been processing a sort of challenge.
This spring, I will be taking nine credit hours of graduate art courses at Minnesota State University, Mankato. It’s part of a sabbatical. I met with a couple of faculty members there at the end of October to talk about registering for classes as a non-degree graduate student. David Morano, the photography instructor spent a lot of time looking at my work and then issued a sort of challenge. “I bet you couldn’t show up at a small town in Minnesota and make photographs of someone you don’t know.” Hence, a late night thinking about making photographs and approaching strangers for portraits. Plainview seemed like a good place to start.
I drove to Plainview early on Halloween morning and sat down for breakfast at Ma’s Cafe. It’s the kind of small town breakfast place where a lot of people come regularly to socialize. If you sit at a table long enough, someone strikes up a conversation just to find out why you are there.
Lois made a comment about my camera, and a request to make sure I got her good side. Which seemed like an invitation to ask if I could make her portrait. She was with Cheryl and Dennis, and all three were planning a night out a Polka convention at the Kahler hotel in Rochester later that night. Lois made the observation that Elgin, Minnesota is where all the action is. Elgin has three bars, a church, and a fire watch-tower. All three of my new acquaintances thought I needed to get down there to make interesting images.
After breakfast, I finished a roll of film walking through Plainview. Plainview is home to the Jon Hassler Theater, which is going to stop producing plays at the end of this month. It’s a shame, because small town arts organizations are amazing, and it’s sad to lose one when the time, energy or dollars run out.
I met Buzz in the lobby of the Theater and asked to make his portrait. Buzz is someone I’d like to photograph more, and I am working on some plans to get back and meet up with him.
After I finished the roll, I headed down to Elgin. I only found the bars, not the church. I walked inside the TKTK bar and asked permission to photograph. The owner thought it was pretty funny when I mentioned that Lois in Plainview said Elgin is where all the action is. I finished up another roll and headed home to develop my film and get ready for Halloween with my kid.
David’s challenge included the clause that shoot film and make prints in the darkroom. I was able to set aside some time that weekend and knock out a print of Dennis from the cafe.