Carlson Studio in Cambridge packs away the cameras

The long line of quality photographs flowing out of the brick building in downtown Cambridge came to a close last month.

Carlson Studio of Photography owners Steve and Sue Carlson held an auction in September and are heading to Alaska for a new adventure.

The father and son team of Roger and Steve Carlson have operated Carlson Studio of Photography since 1960. Those two were wrapping up details in the studio as Steve prepared for the move to Anchorage.
The father and son team of Roger and Steve Carlson have operated Carlson Studio of Photography since 1960. Those two were wrapping up details in the studio as Steve prepared for the move to Anchorage. Photo by Greg Hunt

The couple is moving to Anchorage to be near daughter Erin and son-in-law Shawn after they had their first child this year. Sue left at the end of September to take care of granddaughter Ellie while Erin went back to work. Last week, Steve and his son, Zack, made the final moving road trip to Anchorage.

“I’ve made four trips to Anchorage and Sue has made five over roughly the last 2 1/2 years. This wasn’t a real sudden decision,” Steve explained. “But we sold our house in Goldenwood a couple years ago, thinking if the opportunity for a big move ever came up, we didn’t not want to take it. It worked out really well that way.”

The building on the corner of Main Street and Third Avenue South has been a photography studio since 1908 when Daniel Stadin built it. Steve’s great-uncle, Nils Carlson, bought it from Stadin in the 1930s, operating still under Stadin Photography. Roger Carlson bought the business from his uncle in 1955, changing the name to Carlson’s Photography Studio in 1960. Steve then took over operations in 1990.

The business was the oldest continual business in Cambridge out of the same building. Quality has been a mainstay throughout the years.

“I think our studio has definitely been a fixture in terms of preservation of memories and family histories. We’ve been struggling with what happens to our negative files. We have 165 files downstairs, and the thought of physically having to destroy or burn those files was hard. There’s a lot of history there, not just for us, but for all the people we’ve dealt with over the years. We’ve had a pretty loyal and wide client base for years,” said Carlson.

He continued, “I’ve been in contact with the Historical Society about what to do with those files. About six years ago, we gifted all of our files from 1908 to 1960 to the Historical Society, but then they had the arson fire at the old building and everything basically burned. They lost a lot of old history there. So hopefully, the Historical Society is interested in preserving what we have from 1960 to today.”

Anchorage calling

Steve said he has experienced winters in Anchorage twice, including a trip over Christmas.

“I’m not a big fan of cold weather, so if Erin and Shawn lived in Fairbanks or somewhere like that, I don’t know what would have happened,” he said. “Anchorage is kind of the Miami of Alaska; winter temperatures on the average are milder than they are here with the coastal effect. But you don’t go inland very far when that all changes.”

On the day of the interview, Steve was packing a couple of cases of photography equipment that will make the trip.

“I’m not in any way planning to turn photography into a business but will probably do it on the side and see what happens with that. I would just like to do something completely different. Too young to retire yet – I’m only 59 –  I’m open to almost anything up in Anchorage,” Steve said, adding with a laugh: “But I don’t want to work in a cannery, per se, or something like that. There’s a lot of opportunity up there.”

The first weekend in October, Steve joined five other college buddies in northern Minnesota to play golf on what the group calls its “hunting weekend” – a good send-off for the long road trip.

Along with friends, the Carlsons have plenty of connections as impetus for return visits back to Minnesota. Among them is a daughter, Blair, who lives in Elk River and works at water-proofing industrial buildings. Zack will also be staying in Minnesota, moving to Minneapolis after he finishes courses at the University of Minnesota Duluth to substitute teach and search for a full-time teaching position.

But the white walls at the studio are now void of all the portraits, family and wedding photos that adorned them for years.

“I would like to thank the community for all its support. We’ve had a real close relationship with many, many, many people over the years. Closing the studio and moving wasn’t an economical case, it was more that Sue and I have the chance to do something different in our lives,” Steve said. “Coming from good Scandinavian stock, we get kind of locked into ritual and comfort levels of doing the same thing every day. So we looked at this opportunity as the only time to do something definitely different.”