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downtown

I spent the day after Christmas with the photo book Downtown: Minneapolis in the 1970s. Photographer Mike Evangelist perfectly captured the essence of the city in that era without really intending to.

He was simply a young kid in the early 1970s, taking the bus daily from his suburban New Brighton home to downtown Minneapolis, where he worked an early evening shift at the post office. Between the end of school and the start of his shift, he had an hour or two to roam the streets, which he did with his camera. He used the opportunity to work on his photography skills and experiment with different cameras, lenses, and film.

He didn’t do anything with the photos for years — like almost 40 years. All those years, the negatives sat in a closet. But he started to go through them, discovered a Facebook page called “Old Minneapolis” and decided that was the perfect opportunity to post the photos. His photos quickly became the most popular ones on the page. A book was born.

The “happenstance” quality of the photographs is evident. They were not staged, not taken by a professional photographer, and the intention was to simply document an era. These are photographs we can relate to: many people are old enough to remember this time, but even for those of us who do not, the streetscapes are still recognizable. Nicollet Mall had taken its current form in the 1960s, and stalwarts like the Orpheum and State theaters still line Hennepin Avenue.

I’m familiar with downtown Minneapolis, being a frequent visitor most of my life for shopping, concerts, and sporting events. But while Nicollet Mall to me has pretty much looked the same as it does in Evangelist’s photographs, it’s Hennepin Avenue that has changed tremendously. In Evangelist’s photos, Hennepin–just one block over from Nicollet–seems to be an entirely different world. It’s grittier and dirtier. In the 1970s it represented the “old” Minneapolis, while Nicollet has already been redeveloped into the “new.” Maybe that’s why this book is so stunning. Evangelist documented that clear turning point in downtown Minneapolis’ history.

Anyone interested in the history of cities, urban renewal, or street photography will enjoy this book.

You can buy it here.

The Mill City Museum in Minneapolis is displaying some of the photographs from the book until April 3, 2016.

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