BY GABE LICHT
DELANO, MN Joe McDonald has followed in the footsteps of his father, KJ, in more ways than one, both as a photographer and as a politician.
“I grew up as a photographer’s son,” McDonald said. “I always knew I wanted to be like my father and to photograph all over the world.”
In the 30 years since he established his photography business, now called McDonald’s Studio of Photography, he has been able to accomplish that goal.
He has photographed in international locations such as the Dominican Republic and Ireland. He considers the latter to be the coolest place he has ever worked.
Though he has traveled internationally, he’s proud to call Delano home for his family and his business after growing up in Watertown.
“The No. 1 reason is the people in our community and the organizations we have,” McDonald said. “They’re strong. People have a great value system of hard work ethic and community involvement. It’s not always about ‘Me, me, me.’ It’s about the greater good. There is a sense of loyalty, friendship and appreciation of businesses people have.”
He enjoys photographing people from all walks of life and providing something of value for them for years to come.
“Some of the work I’ve done will give them years of happiness,” McDonald said. “You hope what you do makes a difference, makes life a little better.”
“Everyday people” like Bill, the shoe repairman, and “Mr. Delano” Bill Eppel, both of whom have since passed away, are among his favorite suspects. He has also photographed celebrities and politicians such as George Lucas, Sylvester Stallone, Bill Paxton, George Bush, and Donald Trump.
“It has always been fascinating, be it a 30-year-old supermodel or a 90-year-old man,” McDonald said of such photography. “I enjoy photographing youth. I still want to be in tune with kids. From over the years, being part of the school, in a way it keeps me young.”
After being in business for 30 years, he doesn’t always feel that way.
“I must be getting old. (I) made it into the Herald Journal’s ‘A look back,’” McDonald posted on social media July 3. “This was 1994, but 30 years ago this month, I started the studio in the Delano Granite Works.”
He did so initially with a business partner at the studio called Amundson and McDonald in 1988, after a friend’s father purchased the former Granite Works building.
As the studio grew, he started looking for a new location.
“By 1993, I realized I had a good thing going and needed a big space. This building opened up,” McDonald said of his location at 141 Bridge Ave. E. “ . . . This was always my dream studio.”
Another dream came true when he hired his sister’s friend, Rachel, to work for him.
“We became good friends, fell in love, and got married,” McDonald said. “Now, we’re partners in crime at the studio. Rachel is the brains of the operation. I couldn’t do it without her.”
She serves as the business’ accountant and artist.
“I owe a lot to her with the success of the studio,” McDonald added.
He has also had other quality employees.
“I have employed many high school kids from Delano and Watertown who have an interest in photography,” McDonald said.
Some of those students have gone on to have successful careers in photography and art.
Nostalgia related to being in business for 30 years in the same area as his father is never lost on McDonald.
“What was fun was I was shooting weddings, graduation photos, and more of children my dad photographed,” McDonald said. “Now it’s to the point that people tell me, ‘Your dad did my grandparents’ photos.”