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Some photographers are splashy and flashy. They may use a lot of effects and create magnificent works of art.

But some of the best photography occurs in the heartland, at small daily newspapers that call attention to the beauty of our everyday lives. The chronicling of people in our communities should not be dismissed.

Pick up a small daily and if you’re lucky, you’ll be looking at pictures taken by photographers who have been on staff for years. Their experience and knowledge of the community comes through in the photos. These photographers are the rule, not the exception.

But in rare cases, you’ll be lucky enough to view photos day after day by someone who can be considered among the best in the business.

For 40 years in Mankato, Minnesota, readers of the Mankato Free Press encountered the photojournalism of John Cross. That he stayed at the same newspaper for four decades makes John a rarity in today’s journalism field. The newspaper recently acknowledge his talent and contributions in a new book titled Crossroads: Capturing the People, Places and Events of Southern Minnesota.

I worked with John for 10 years. At the Free Press I was first a news clerk, then a reporter, then a copy editor. I went out on assignments with John and as a copy editor, I placed his photos on the page. John was one of my favorite people to work with: down-to-earth, personable and talented. So many days his work amazed me.

Of course I bought the book, knowing I’d be treated to a collection of wonderful photos that have appeared in the Free Press over the years.

The book is organized by decade, starting in 1975, John’s first year at the Free Press. (I always liked to tease him by saying I was a year old when he started there). Seeing all of these photos in one place, seeing the arc of his work from beginning to end, was more powerful than I thought it would be. I always knew John was talented, but this book proves that few photojournalists can match his talent.

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The photos range from landscapes to portraits. He captures all four seasons: the promise of spring, the heat of summer (usually represented by a farm shot), the cooling of autumn and the icy chill of winter. He documents joy, elation, and happiness. He also documents the depth of despair, such as people whose homes have been ravaged by nature.

One page in particular brought tears to my eyes. I remember when the photo of the man leaning into the hearse that is carrying his soldier-son’s body was published. It was evocative then, and more so now. John makes us feel that father’s pain.

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I dare you to look at these pictures and not cry.

If you like photojournalism, or know someone who does, please get this book. John’s work transcends place: you don’t have to know anything about Mankato or Minnesota to appreciate his subjects. He has a knack for identifying the human spirit in every photo.

You can order the book here. I checked the site on Dec. 21 and it says that only 25 books are left. Better get yours now!

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