Photographer Mike Evangelist captures downtown in a new book of retro images.
In the 1970s, Mike Evangelist was a young, introverted man from the suburbs working in a post office in downtown Minneapolis. As a 17-year-old aspiring photographer, he would wander Nicollet Mall and take photos of what caught his eye — skyscrapers, girls and the hustle and bustle of city life. Now, more than 40 years later, these images have been collected into a photo book, “Downtown: Minneapolis in the 1970s.”
The book, with an introduction from Andy Sturdevant, subtly tells the story of a very different downtown Minneapolis from the one of today, a city lost to time but captured in Evangelist’s images.
“Downtown” was only possible when Evangelist bought a fancy scanner that could bring the thousands of old photos to a modern format. Over the past few years, he shared the images on the “Old Minneapolis” Facebook where thousands of people reminisced about Evangelist’s captured downtown Minneapolis.
“It’s sort of like finding treasure that you didn’t know you had,” he told The Journal. “They’re this little slice of how I experienced [the city]. And the fact that it’s a shared experience with people is the fun part.”
Eventually the Minnesota Historical Society Press reached out to Evangelist about sorting the images into a collection. In a matter of years the aging film in his closet had turned Evangelist into a published photographer decades after he had taken the photos.
Mike Evangelist, then and now.
“Downtown: Minneapolis in the 1970s” contains about 150 images, some in color and others black and white, of everything from a Block E packed with small businesses to an under-construction IDS Center.
Evangelist’s bewildered gaze reflects an awe of the city’s urban core when department stores and shopping centers were its soul. In one photo, two girls crane their necks to look at the IDS Center. In another, Nicollet Mall is dressed with lights for the holiday season.
One of Evangelist’s most popular images depicts two young women hitchhiking, pointing their thumbs up toward a busy thoroughfare. Many people in his candid photos are often going about their daily lives, unaware that Evangelist immortalized them in film.
“I was interested in this stuff because I was a kid from the suburbs and all this was new to me. That was impressive to me,” he said.
At the time, Evangelist worked at a post office downtown and commuted from New Brighton. His wife worked at Dayton’s. Bent on becoming a professional photographer, Evangelist would experiment with new cameras and tools on his walks through downtown.
“When I’m living something that’s interesting or intriguing or strange, I photograph it. I’m introverted — this is what I do,” he said.
Evangelist believes the appeal of his photos isn’t always the subject — often buildings, girls or cars — but the context: businesses, fashion and other details that stir up memories in readers. Looking back on the photos, the striking differences give the book a time capsule quality.
“It became so vivid to me in looking at these images that so much has changed,” he said. “Nicollet Mall drifted away in how amazing it was. It’s kind of a trip because so much has changed, but there are glimpses that are the same.”
While the city detailed in the book no longer exists, Evangelist is optimistic about the future of Nicollet Mall with the current redevelopment and renewed interest in downtown retail.
“I wish all the malls would close and everyone would shop downtown, but that’s not going to happen,” he laughed.
Despite the years since his adolescent affair with the city, he’s still intrigued by Minneapolis. Evangelist takes time every now and then to walk through downtown to shoot new buildings and capture new, candid characters.
“Forty years from now I can do another one like this,” he joked.
The Mill City Museum is also hosting a free, public exhibit featuring 22 of Evangelist’s photos and a slideshow of unpublished images through April 3, 2016.
“Downtown: Minneapolis in the 1970s”
Photos by Mike Evangelist, words by Andy Sturdevant
$29.95, Minnesota Historical Society Press, November 2015
Prints are available of Evangelist’s photos via an online shop here.
All photos from Mike Evangelist