These photographs are from an ongoing project exploring the communities of the Mesabi Iron Range. The project began when the American steel industry, an industry with a history of boom and bust cycles, suffered its worst collapse. There are few photographs of despair and defeat. I quickly discovered that the people of the Mesabi Range are resilient, good humored and generous. In short, life goes on.
Although I have pursued other subjects I return to this one and always find fresh possibilities. From the beginning the scrappy, industrial beauty of this area comprised of forests, lakes, and mines captured my attention. There is an equally engaging beauty in the vigor and directness of people of the Iron Range.
My initial introduction to the Iron Range was a Fourth of July parade in Biwabik, Minnesota. My preconception of Rangers was that they were hardworking, durable north country people. That is certainly true but what I didn’t know was that they are dependably generous and embody an extraordinary joie de vivre. There is a very keen sense of history in the communities of the Mesabi Iron Range which describe themselves as having “built America”.
I use a view camera, in part, because it insures a degree of communication between those photographed and myself. Additionally, darkroom processes provide built-in stages for reflection. Evaluations move from a recollection of highly charged enthusiasm at the moment of exposure to a cooler appraisal of the image as a thoughtful, well-made photograph. Remaining throughout is the initial sense of seeing in the negative or contact sheet an expression or gesture that I first glimpsed and can now understand.
Recently I attended a curling bonspiel raising money for the Eveleth-Gilbert High School. I met an acquaintance that proudly told me of the amount of money raised. I responded by saying that it continues the support for education by the early immigrants to the region. The school buildings in Eveleth, Buhl and, especially Hibbing, are notable for their grandeur. He replied, “This is a special place. You know that Dick. That’s why you have been coming here for so many years.” I agreed.