Monday, March 26, 2012

History everywhere you look

First Free Press, Apr. 4, 1887.
The Free Press will soon be celebrating it's 125th anniversary of providing news and information to southern Minnesota. I know, that sounds like a gimmick, but it's real, and once that number sinks in a bit its significance will hit.

That's a long time. That time frame spans two centuries. It spans every United States president from Grover Cleveland to Barack Obama. It spans more history than I can imagine.

The Free Press itself is steeped in Mankato's history. Its staff has covered literally every major event in Mankato for the last 125 years, not to mention major state and national events. Looking through old copies of the Free Press is like going back in time, literally. The yellowed pages of old copies of the paper hold a trove of details about Mankato's past, on every page from A1 to Classifieds.

The seminal publication actually was the Independent which began in 1857. Six years later, it was bought by Charles Slocum and named the Mankato Union. Then in 1880 the Union and its rival Mankato paper, the Record, merged and became the Mankato Weekly Free Press. It ran as a weekly until Apr. 4, 1887 when editor L.P. Hunt published the first daily issue. Hunt's name still adorns a stone in Jackson Park that marks where the original building that housed the Free Press once stood.

While the current Free Press building hasn't been here as long as the paper it still contains much of the history of the Free Press, and of the newspaper publishing industry in general. I started a personal project a couple of years ago to photographically explore some of that history.

Truth be told, it started on a slow Saturday afternoon when I set out to photograph some of the worn and heavily used items in the building. I work nearly every Saturday, and the Free Press building is fairly quiet on the weekends. During some time between assignments I started exploring some of the nooks and crannies of the building, taking a few pictures along the way. Newspaper employees are generally pack rats: You never know when you might need something. Many of the items I found and photographed not only show some of the Free Press' history but show how hard it can be to publish a daily newspaper for 125 years.

L.P. Hunt said it well in a note to readers in that first daily issue. "The labor incident to getting out the initial number of a daily paper is vastly more trying than people not familiar with newspaper work and worry are aware of or can be devised of."

I've had some fun doing this, and I'm still having fun. I look forward to having some more time this spring to do some more exploring. I've found areas of the building that hold some fantastic history largely unseen even by most employees of the Free Press. I think these pictures not only show history, but the incessant march of time. I think they illustrate how much the newspaper business has changed over the years, changed but remained the same in some ways (hopefully not resulting in its demise!).

Until then, I'll post a few pictures every couple of days from what I've shot so far. I hope you enjoy them.

Free Press staff from 1935.

Newspapers at the end of the press run.

Typewriter keys.

Monday, March 5, 2012

At the State Wrestling Tournament

I've always admired high school wrestlers' dedication and determination. Once a wrestler is out there on the mat, success or failure rests only with him.
The pinnacle of a high school wrestler's success is to win a championship match at the Minnesota State High School Wrestling Tournament in St. Paul.
Anyone who has attended one as a spectator will agree that the whole event is pretty exciting, particularly in the opening rounds when eight matches are going on at the same time on the arena floor.
But as a photographer with a few miles on his odometer _ a conservative estimate is that I've shot more than 30 opening sessions of the Minnesota State High School State Wrestling Tournament_ the whole event is exhausting.
Since our readers come from a wide area, we are charged with photographing a representative sample of athletes from area schools.
During the quarterfinal rounds of the Class A and Class AA matches, I shot photographs of no less than two dozen matches that were selected by our sports editor to be highlighted in our tournament coverage.
Keeping an eye on the status of the various matches and getting photographs of them is a daunting task, particularly when two are happening at the same time.
It's always nice when the last match concludes...kind of like when the pain from hitting one's thumb with a hammer finally subsides.
The Minnesota State High School League rides herd on the whole affair, including the issuance of press credentials.
I never realized there were so many newspapers in Minnesota. I understand that state tournaments are a pretty big deal with weekly papers wanting to report on the tournament success of their local kids.
But each year, there seems to be more photographers sporting MSHSL-issued photographers' credentials hanging from belt loops and buttonholes, all competing for a little elbow room along the sidelines.
Where photographers can or cannot be to take photographs frequently becomes a moving target and rarely does a tournament go by where, despite my best efforts, I'm not scolded by a MSHSL official for being somewhere I shouldn't be.
But despite the congestion and confusion, I'm the eyes of for all of our readers who can't be at the event. I'm expected to come back with the goods.
That sometimes requires being a bit gruff, sometimes a bit rude, to elbow a little bit of shooting room out of the crowds of other shooters.
It's tough, challenging work and even after more than 30 tournaments, hasn't gotten any easier.
Having said that, evidently the job of shooting the state wrestling tournament has become child's play judging by the youthful appearance of some shooters who were sporting official MSHSL media credentials at this year's event.