Monday, December 27, 2010

Suburban World: The Norling Photographs

I'm a lover of history, most especially those events between the late 19th C and th late 20th C. Perhaps this makes me an outlier in a Fraternity filled with brothers who know the name of George Washington's horse in the French and Indian War but for me, some of the most interesting subjects in history happened between 1800 and 2000. I'd like to describe a book that takes a slice of life peek at the world of the 1950's, that much loved but misunderstood decade.

Irvin Norling was the unofficial photographer of one of the major suburbs to grow around the Twin Cities, Bloomington. Today, Bloomington is a town that hosts the Mall of America, the airport, dozens of hotels for travelers to these parts, and of course, the Masonic Homes and Grand Lodge headquarters. The Bloomington of the 1950's was a much different time and place than what I recognize when I pass by the neighborhoods of ramblers and tract homes.

Irvin Norling chronicled everything that happened in town, from the joyous events, like sock hops and Shriners activities to the tragic, like the many fatal car wrecks; Norling recorded everything. As I flipped through this book at my local bookstore, I became enthralled with these photos. Every detail, from the sign for the future home of the Minnesota Twins, the Met Stadium (no longer with us) to Howard Wong's Restaurant (a grocery store now stands on the site), I was witnessing a slice of life presented in vivid black and white. Every person seemed alive as if the picture would begin to move and the subjects would tell their story. It is a poignant collection of images digging deep into all aspects of suburban life at that time and in that place.

This collection is powerful and personal. There is no agenda, no elegiac longings for the idyllic nor accusations toward the hypocrites. The story is told by Norling's subjects presenting a life lived, even if that life is tragically cut short. I really believe that it is more than a coffee table book. You can find it on Amazon or if you live in Minnesota, you can find it in your local bookstore and you can catch a peek of the book at Google Books.

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