Obituary: Photographer Clair B. Peterson captured families and famous

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 10, 2014 - 8:43 PM

When residents of southwest Minneapolis and Edina needed somebody to capture life’s most precious moments, they called on photographer Clair B. Peterson.

Generations of families hired Peterson to take pictures of baby dedications, confirmations, graduations and weddings, as well as family portraits. Business and religious leaders, athletes and entertainers had him take publicity photos. The high quality of his work, spanning more than 50 years, kept them all coming back to Clair Peterson Portraits.

“Ministers called him the ‘dapper gentleman.’ That is the perfect way to describe him,” said Nancy Dobbratz, who had her high school senior photo, wedding photo and family portraits taken by Peterson. “He was a marvelous person, classy, and generations went back. That is where you went.”

Peterson, 93, died May 22 after a bout with pneumonia while at Vernon Terrace, an assisted living facility in Edina.

He developed an interest in photography while growing up in Cokato, Minn. His first camera was a point-and-shoot Kodak Brownie. He later traded up for more sophisticated equipment after getting a degree from Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

Peterson was briefly in business with a partner in the late 1950s in Southdale Center, but branched out on his own when he opened a small studio on the Minneapolis side of the 50th and France area. It was there he took thousands of senior photos for students at Southwest and Edina high schools, and of leaders such as the late Archbishop John Roach and the Pohlad family, which owns the Minnesota Twins.

His forte was weddings, and his portfolio included the ceremony for the famous singer and ukulele player Tiny Tim in the 1990s. He shot as many as three weddings on a given weekend at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, and knew almost every priest, minister and rabbi from other churches in the area, said Peterson’s son, Jeff, of Minneapolis.

Peterson was known mostly for his meticulous manner of getting the right shot, those who knew him said.

“He was very diligent in getting the lighting just right,” said Marty Rud of the 50th and France Business Association, of which Peterson was a longtime member. “He was really an artist. He was very good at what he did.”

Peterson often had his camera at sporting events at Southwest High School and took photos of the school’s athletic teams, often for little or no charge. He was proud to deliver a quality product and take the time to develop strong interpersonal relationships, his son said.

“He really got to know people. They felt comfortable with him,” Jeff Peterson said. “Even after the photo, they’d be in good spirits. That made them want to come back. When people wanted a nice photograph and somebody trustworthy, they went to him.”

Nicknamed “the Big Swede from Cokato,” Peterson was strong supporter of his hometown about 70 miles west of the Twin Cities on Hwy. 12, Rud said. He also was proud of being an Eagle Scout, the highest rank conferred by the Boy Scouts, his son said.

Peterson was a member of the Edina Rotary Club and the Minneapolis Golf Club. He also was a big University of Minnesota basketball fan, and ushered at football games in the 1960s.

In addition to his son, Jeff, Peterson is survived by another son, Tim, of Minneapolis, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Services have been held.

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