By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN If a picture is worth a thousand words, former photographer Lorraine (Elsen) Peterson has volumes stored in her country home in Delano.
“I just can’t figure throwing these away, but I might have to for space reasons,” said Peterson, who has more than 40 boxes of old photos she took of weddings, families, and other special occasions.
Peterson is looking for the descendants of the original subjects, to see if they would like to have the photos.
If anyone thinks Peterson may have taken a photo of their family, Peterson said they should call as soon as possible.
“I probably took over 500 weddings,” she said. Many times, her customers would only purchase a portion of the photos she shot, so she was left with the extras.
“All the pictures they didn’t take are here,” she said.
A picture-perfect past
Peterson’s first wedding photo shoot was for a cousin in April 1945, but her fascination with photography began long before.
When she was about eight years old, Peterson remembers building a snow tunnel and taking a picture of her two dogs seated inside.
Her knack for composition and creativity continued until 10th grade, when she became ill and had to have a series of operations.
“I missed the whole year,” said Peterson, who grew up near Robbinsdale. When her health improved, she had to join a younger class.
“I cried and told my dad I didn’t want to go back to school, and I just wanted to go to work,” she said. “He said, ‘you try it for six weeks.’”
Peterson’s glad she did, too, because she ended up joining the newspaper and yearbook staff. During her senior year, the school got a new camera, and the boy who had done the photography work wasn’t able to focus it because of his thick glasses.
“We had homecoming, and the teacher in charge asked if anyone had any experience whatsoever in photography,” Peterson said. “All the fingers pointed at me.”
That night, Peterson read the camera manual and learned how to operate the plates and bellows.
“The next day was the ball game,” Peterson recalled. “The pictures turned out beautifully.”
For the rest of the school year, Peterson was the school’s official photographer. The job came with perks, such as being able to get out of class at any time.
“I didn’t abuse it too much,” she smiled.
Work and family
After graduation in 1944, Peterson signed up for college, but kept searching the newspapers for a photography job.
In August, she heard back from Charlie’s Café Exceptionale, a successful 358-seat restaurant.
“That was the best dinner club in Minneapolis,” Peterson said. “So, I didn’t go to college.”
Her job involved photographing customers at their tables and taking the film to a darkroom across the street to get developed.
“Within about 45 minutes, it was ready to go back to the customer,” Peterson said.
In January 1948, Peterson got married to Robert “Gordon” Peterson, and moved to her current home in Delano.
The farm was Gordon’s home place, Peterson said, adding that he was born in the house and died in the same room, 86 years later.
“The first year we were married, Gordy didn’t want me to work,” Peterson said.
For Peterson, who had been doing photography work for the past four years, the change was a bit of an adjustment.
“My job was to get the eggs,” she said. “I didn’t like the chickens.”
After a year, Peterson told her husband that she could make more money doing photography, and that they should butcher the chickens and eat them.
“And that’s exactly what we did,” she said.
Peterson’s first darkroom was Gordon’s fishhouse, set up in the dining room.
“In the summers, we moved it to the woodshed,” she said.
One April while burning leaves, Peterson accidentally set fire to a few of the buildings on the farm, including the woodshed.
Fortunately, Gordon was a skilled builder, and was able to construct a new photography studio.
Now, the building is home for Peterson’s daughter, Jean Marie, and her husband, Al.
“We still call it the studio,” Peterson said.
In 1968, Peterson’s son, John, took over the photography business. The other children, including Jean Marie, Robert, and Sara Beth, got involved later, as well.
Peterson often went along to help with posing and ordering.
A house of memories
Peterson doesn’t carry a camera anymore, but photos are still very much part of her life.
Pictures of her family and friends fill her house on the walls, under the beds, and in drawers each one telling a story of years gone by.
One example is the aerial shot of her father’s barn after it burned down in 1939, and another shows Peterson’s relatives from Holland.
A more recent snapshot in the kitchen shows a huge family reunion. Peterson’s mother was one of 16 children, and Peterson’s father was one of 14 children.
“And, I’m an only child,” Peterson said.
Peterson made an offhand comment that she considers herself a forgetful person. However, with her treasure trove of photos, Peterson seems to have a limitless supply of memories on hand.
“It’s been quite a life,” she said.
In addition to finding homes for her professional photos, Peterson said she would like to locate former classmates and friends from her past.
“If anyone knows me from the good old days, I wish they’d call,” Peterson said. “I’d love to hear from them.”
Peterson’s farm, Peterson Produce, is located on Highway 12 on the east side of Delano. She can be reached at (763) 972-2052.