Did you know that the Minnesota Historical Society Press is a member of the Association of American University Presses (AAUP)? In recognition of University Press Week, today’s post is by MNHS Press editor Josh Leventhal.
A favorite activity on social media, and particularly Facebook, is posting old photos, articles, or other items that evoke days gone by. Whereas nowadays a photo is posted for all the world to see the minute it’s taken, photos that were taken decades ago have to be dug out of an old shoe box or photo album, scanned, and then uploaded to the digital world of the internet.
When Mike Evangelist revisited the photos he had taken as a teenager of downtown Minneapolis during the early 1970s—photos that had been all but forgotten for forty years—and began posting them to the “Old Minneapolis” community on Facebook, the response was enthusiastic. Images showing local businesses long since replaced by chain stores; classic buildings that are today shadowed by modern skyscrapers; funky fashions now worn only by young hipsters evoking a time they did not experience themselves; and the overall look and vibe of Minneapolis in the ‘70s sparked many thoughtful reminiscences and lively discussion. “Oh, I remember. . .” or “Whatever happened to . . . ?”
This fascination with reliving, or perhaps reimagining, the past through old photos is on display in a new book of Mike’s photography, Downtown: Minneapolis in the 1970s, published by MNHS Press. With accompanying text by writer and artist Andy Sturdevant providing historical context and contemporary perspectives, the nearly 200 color and black-and-white photos in the book depict a city both foreign and familiar.
Many identifiable landmarks are evident, and even some of the people featured in the images appear as if they could be dropped into the downtown Minneapolis of 2015 and look right at home, albeit with a throwback style. But, for the most part the photos tell of a city that was undergoing a transformation forty years ago, with new modern office buildings rising to the sky and elevated skyways crisscrossing the downtown streets. Their days numbered, independent retailers, restaurants, and movie theaters—now all since disappeared—were holding on to their places in the commercial landscape. The classic ’70s cars, the bell-bottom pants, the hairstyles, and other fashions all capture this distinct moment in the city’s history.
It was an interesting experiment, of sorts, to see how images and subjects that had inspired such avid reactions on social media would translate to the printed pages of a book. Would the people who “liked” and commented on the images on Facebook go the extra step of purchasing the book? Did the fleeting posts on Old Minneapolis satisfy the viewer’s intrigue?
The book has been out for only a few weeks, but if the response to the book’s launch event—being held this evening at the Mill City Museum in, of course, downtown Minneapolis to kick off an exhibit of Mike’s photos—is any indication, the experiment worked. With nearly 1,800 people responding with positive RSVPs—for a space that holds roughly 700 people—the event’s hours had to be extended and extra copies of the book brought on hand.
Downtown offers a throwback look at an earlier time through stunning photos and the special characters—and the distinctive character of a city—they capture. The book is also a twenty-first-century reflection of the immediacy and impact of social media for sharing photos and memories and for bringing people together, both virtually and in person, to celebrate those recollections.