DELANO, MN Lorraine Peterson isn’t a shoe collector. The 36 shoeboxes she has contain thousands of photos she and her children took, spanning three decades, and she’s making one last effort to get them into the right hands.
From the late 1940s to the mid 1970s, Peterson took wedding photos and family photos, as well as photos at some social events. She developed the photos herself and let the individuals choose the ones they liked.
“They picked what they wanted and the rest are here,” Peterson said.
But they won’t be able to stay there, with Peterson needing to clear up space for family this Christmas. She’s hoping family members will contact her to claim the forgotten photos.
“Some people have their photos and aren’t interested, but I have photos for their kids and grandkids,” Peterson said. “I will not give out any files except to family.”
Peterson got her start in photography as a senior in high school.
“The boy who had taken the photos the year before for the yearbook and the paper, all his pictures were blurry because he couldn’t focus, so we had a crash meeting the night before homecoming,” Peterson said. “’Is there anybody here who knows anything about taking photos?’ All fingers pointed to me because I had three little cameras at home.”
She took home the school’s Speed Graphic camera and learned how to use it. After graduating from high school, she intended to attend college, but an ad for a photographer at Charlie’s Café Exceptionale caught her eye.
“It was ‘the place to go’ in Minneapolis. I went and I got the job,” Peterson said. “This was at the end of the war and, when the boys would come home, they would take their girls to the nicest place. Boy, I made a lot of money there.”
When she moved to her husband Gordy’s family farm south of Delano in January of 1948, she was told to take a break from photography and did so reluctantly. Instead, she did tasks like picking eggs to sell.
“I was scared of the chickens and they didn’t like me,” Peterson said. “They’d either fly out at me or peck my hand. At the end of the year, I said, ‘Gordy, I can make much more money taking pictures than with these eggs.”
She started out charging $50 to photograph a wedding.
That included 12 8x10 photos in an album. They could buy additional 8x10 photos for $1 each.
Taking those photos wasn’t cheap.
“Every time I pushed the button on the black and white camera, it cost me 50 cents,” Peterson said.
She didn’t get into color photography until 1966, when her oldest son was a junior in high school. During that year, she was taking a break from photography, so he asked if he could make money taking photos for a couple she had turned down. The answer was yes, but he wanted to take the photos in color.
“I took the photos in black and white and he stood alongside me and took them in color,” Peterson said. “His turned out so wonderfully.”
All four Peterson children went on to use photography to work their way through college, with their mom helping them pose those photos.
Those photo ops stopped around 1975, but the photos remain.