Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Power of Pictures

Photos offer glimpse at life in 1940s small-town Iowa
By JAMES BELTRAN, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
POSTED: May 29, 2008 DES MOINES — He spent his entire savings of $12.50 on the 35 mm Argus AF camera in 1939 and for four years documented life in the small Iowa town of Ridgeway. But it wasn’t until he was diagnosed with cancer more than 60 years later that Everett Kuntz actually printed the more than 2,000 snapshots — church picnics, his mother husking corn, soda fountain scenes from the town’s drugstore. Although Kuntz died in 2003 at age 82, the University of Iowa Press has published dozens of his photos in a book, ‘‘Sunday Afternoon on the Porch.’’ ‘‘People thought he was kind of funny,’’ said Kuntz’s wife Helen. ‘‘He took all those pictures and didn’t even have the money to print them.’’ After Kuntz bought the camera, he carried it with him everywhere, clicking away during town gatherings, lazy afternoons on a neighbor’s porch or even standing before a table piled high with his family’s Sunday dinner. He built a camera case using an old boot and a clasp from his mother’s purse, and he bought movie reel film in bulk. He rolled his own film and developed it in a closet on his parents’ farm. The 350 residents of Ridgeway took to calling him ‘‘Scoop.’’ ‘‘There are some (photos) in which he seems to have captured so much in one shot, maybe partly by accident,’’ said Jim Heynen, who wrote vignettes to accompany the photos in the book. ‘‘They remind people of what you might see in an old collection of family albums from the 1940s.’’ Heynen described pictures depicting ‘‘chiseled-looking prairie people’’ and a ‘‘community gathering spot along the creek with homemade ice cream.’’ Kuntz left Ridgeway after college, married Helen, had three children and worked as an electrical engineer in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. He took his photo collection with him — neatly packed in a box and still unprinted — and told no one about it. After being diagnosed with cancer, Kuntz pulled out the box and developed his photographs. His final months were spent looking over his collection and reminiscing about old times. ‘‘He was emotional,’’ said Kuntz’s son David. ‘‘You could see it in his eyes that it brought back memories.’’ One particular photograph seemed to interest Kuntz more than the others, his wife said. It showed his parents harvesting on their farm — his father carrying stalks of oats and his mother driving a team of horses. ‘‘He stared at that one for 20 minutes,’’ Helen Kuntz said. ‘‘In those last months, it all came alive for him.’’ His fondest memories of Ridgeway are captured on film. Like wading along the sandy Turkey River, or the day he walked past the railroad as workers laid down track with shovels and hammers. It’s a nostalgic collection Kuntz’s family cherishes. His wife has several photos on display at her home in the Twin Cities suburb of Mounds View, as does his son David at his law firm in St. Paul. ‘‘I kind of have tears,’’ Helen Kuntz said, pausing to compose herself. ‘‘It’s a fun tribute to him. ... It would have been such a blessing if he could have seen this book.’’ The photos represent more than her husband’s legacy. For Helen, it’s a reminder of the way America used to be — a lifestyle it should strive to rediscover. ‘‘The idea of family is reflected there,’’ she said. ‘‘Friends and the simple life.’’
[I will be adding this to my bookshelf soon]

2 comments:

sugarcreekfarm said...

Thanks for the tip - looks like a gem!

"JEANNELLE" said...

Thank you for posting this story! The photos are surely a historical Iowa treasure!