It’s no secret that we live in an unprecedented time of visual stimulation and documentation, where everyone with a smart phone makes like Ansel Adams and blasts their artwork out to the world. This area of the city is especially photogenic, inspiring neighbors’ quick pics that gloriously glut the daily newsfeed with all stripes of sunsets, sunrises, surprises.
Long before the digital camera revolution, Larry Risser was enamored with photographing the many charms of Lake Harriet, a sampling of which can be seen in all its slide-show glory here.
A lifelong photographer and former English teacher at West and Southwest high schools, Risser has lived in Linden Hills/Lake Harriet for 50 years with his wife, Edis, and has spent much of the past decade walking and photographing the lake named for Harriet Lovejoy, the wife of colonel Henry Leavenworth, who lived at Fort Snelling in the 1800s.
“I see the lake the way you write about music, as such a refuge and such an important part of life,” Risser told me recently, sitting in his living room surrounded by his photos. “I see people coming there in grief, and celebration, and romanticism; a desire to work out and get in shape, and everything. It’s just a place that sort of meets the human needs in every aspect of life.”
Risser’s photos capture as much, from lovers in a poignant post-bike repose; a marathon-running flag-waving Marine; a peaceful father-son fishing team; a flurry of eagles, owls, fox, ducks, geese, and birds of prey; the simple majesty of Rose Garden weddings; the regulars, characters, and kooks that populate the shore; stolen moments between lovers; the sailors and fisherpeople; the always interesting parade of all-season runners and walkers, and more.
“I like photos that tell a story,” said Risser. “I want my photos to say something, not just be there. I do a lot of street photography, and I frequently tell people, ‘I think I just got a good picture of you,’ and I always offer to email it to them, and I’ve had some really interesting responses. Usually just a short ‘thank you,’ but once in a while people just pore out a whole story.”
A native of Stewartville, Minnesota, and a graduate of Macalester College, Risser was obviously born with the skills that make any good photojournalist tick: a terrific eye and a passion for people and the art of photography.
“I found a little camera when I was 7 years old,” he said, “and I remember it didn’t have protection against double exposure, and I had my sister, kind of Chagall-like, sitting on top of the house, and I thought, ‘My god, this is fabulous! You can do things with this other than just take a straight picture!’
“Then in 10th or 11th grade, a teacher let me use the school’s Crown Graphic sheet belt camera, and I took sports pictures and stuff for the school newspaper. I went to Macalester as an English major and art minor, and I took a class with Jerome Liebling, who was a classic photographer, and I’ve been at it off and on ever since. I still have my dark room in my basement, and I won’t give it up.”
He’s done professional photography work and continues to shoot all over the Twin Cities, but Risser’s first love is the lake that sits a couple hundred yards from his home.
“You can go all over the world and explore and find all kinds of things, and I love to travel, but you walk around that lake and I never know what I’m going to find,” he said. “You’re cosmopolitan in your own back yard, aren’t you?
“There’s endless possibilities. The lake draws ethnic diversity from all over; people come to the lake for all kinds of reasons. It just pulls people.”
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org