Be Here Now

A documentary show at the Minnesota Historical Society captures the state of the state, one second at a time

 

Two elderly men in Sansabelt slacks and white slip-on spats sit patiently, stiffly, at a table to the right of the frame. Coming from the left are shelves and racks of clothing, nearly piled to the ceiling, rolling like an avalanche toward the men. The scene is from Terry Gydesen's "Men Waiting for Wives, Shopping, Fort Myers, Florida, 1995." Warm, exterior light beams in from a window to the right like an intruder. The men sit in the shop without speaking, staring blankly ahead. The shot feels dry, claustrophobic, stifling: There is no air here.

The photograph is shot from the inside of a limo, through a tunnel of carpeting on the ceiling, faux-crystal bottles of alcohol, a television, and a mile of Corinthian leather. A newlywed couple, Donovan and Terry, shrink into the back seat. The bride smiles at the camera, proud but tentative. The groom, in a tux, goatee, slicked-back hair, and tinted shades, peers through his passenger window to the right of the frame--looking for an out from this connubial cavern. A caption next to this Joe Allen photo from his "Urban Indian" series explains the following: The couple was separated mere months after the wedding.

Bring the bliss: Keri Pickett's "Body Piercing at Bionic Lab, Minneapolis, January 1999"
Bring the bliss: Keri Pickett's "Body Piercing at Bionic Lab, Minneapolis, January 1999"

 

Tom Jenkins, with a mustache, bowl haircut, and slight paunch, holds a bundled baby while flanked by a woman and two smiling employees in greasy mechanic's togs. Tools hang straight and shiny on a wall in the background of Mark Jensen's "Jenkins Family and Employees, the Wonderful Muffler Man, Roseville, November 1997." There's a No Smoking sign on a heater overhead. Dust and a bank of fluorescent lights cast gray shadows. A fender juts in from the lower left of the frame, its hubcap revealing the car to be a Mercedes.

 

George Byron Griffiths's "Shelly Moen Plans Dinner Via Cellular Phone, Eden Prairie, July 8, 1999," is all suburban angst and technological trappings, a scene spit-shined in a manner that seems both inhuman and touching. While Moen laughs into a cell phone in the driver's seat of an SUV--one hand on the wheel, white skirt bunched up around her thighs--her two sons stick to the leather back seat. Both are dressed in golf shirts and twill shorts, and have perfectly parted blond hair. They're modern, affluent clones of Dennis the Menace. The older boy plays a Gameboy, the younger looks straight ahead. A doll of Austin Powers's Dr. Evil teeters between them.

 

"Women in Polo's Cantina, St. James, June 1999" from Wing Young Huie's "Diversity in Rural Minnesota." Two Latino women, overweight and overly made-up, sit on cheap chairs at a table littered with Bud Light bottles, a half-filled pitcher of beer, empty Marlboro Light boxes, full ashtrays, and car keys. The woman on the right side looks out of the frame with chagrin. The other is centered in the frame, with the folds of her belly jutting toward the camera; she's smiling widely and warmly. In the background, above her head, is a Budweiser poster with five leggy Latinas sitting at a bar. The slogan on the poster reads: "Let's Fiesta."

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