This was the photo that did it.
I was searching for historic images of the Happy Hour Bar for an episode of My MN Story and was finding nothing. Plenty of photos of the neighboring Gay 90s and a few other Minneapolis nightspots but no Happy Hour. I then came across photographer Stephen Cysewski’s, “Wandering in America.” At first this site looked like one of those long-forgotten collections of broken links you tend to find in the dusty corners of the internet. However these links led me to a vast collection of Cysewski’s photographs from around the world – including the sidewalk in front of the Happy Hour Bar.
When I emailed him to ask if I could use his pictures, the 73 year old Cysewski was happy to share his photos and his thoughts on photography and wandering.
“quirky things, weird things, mundane things…are where the memories are. It isn’t in sunsets.”
Photography has never been his profession, but it’s much more than a hobby. A Professor Emeritus at the University of Alaska, I spoke to Cysewski on the phone as he came home from his early morning walk through Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge near his home in Fairbanks, Alaska. And yes, he had already taken a few photos.
He tends to wander in places he thinks might be visually interesting to him but he never has a goal in mind. “When I go, I don’t look for anything and I don’t expect anything and then I see things,” says Cysewski. “I see people who go (to Creamer’s Field) and look for a bird or look for this or they look for that and then they don’t see things, they only see what they are looking for rather than just responding to the environment.”
What he responds to are “quirky things, weird things, mundane things. And that’s also where memories lie for people…it’s the everyday things, the sign, the dress, the car, the Coke bottle. All those are where the memories are. It isn’t in sunsets.”
Cysewski was passing though the Twin Cities in the late 1970s, on the way to visit his father in Amery, Wisconsin. As usual, he had his camera with him.
“I just love wandering in cities. I took the bus between Minneapolis and St. Paul and just wandered places that were attractive to me. I just find it very rewarding, and I still do. I still do it all the time, get up early in the morning and just start walking. I get so energized by the visual things that I see. Just the shape of things, the character, the people, the signs, the shadow, it’s just energizing. And it has been really my whole life. And it still is, I can walk anyplace and see a million photos.”
A photographer, not an artist.
Although his photos have been collected by a few institutions and there has been talk of a possible 2020 exhibit of his work at a museum in Anchorage, he doesn’t consider himself an artist.
“I haven’t pursued any kind of competitive art environment. I’m a photographer not an artist. Years ago, I sort of pursued that, I had someone advocating for me. But I found I felt competitive…and it started to drift away from the response photography that I want to do so I said, ‘forget that, I’m going to just take pictures.”
Check out more pictures by Stephen Cysewski on any of his many, many blogs:
Even more links at cysewski.com
Do you recognize any of these locations? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.