Photo project sets to capture Waconia’s spirit

Paul Presnail
Paul Presnail

by Brady Lass

Waconia Patriot


For many, Waconia is a gorgeous place that deserves attention for its small town charm and striking visuals.

It looks like Waconia residents will see that artistic side thanks to an upcoming project by St. Paul photographer Paul Presnail, who plans to capture Waconia’s beauty through photography in the coming year.

Presnail works as a writer for Cambria in Eden Prairie, but has had his hobby in photography since 1976 after a trip through South Dakota. He now carries his camera wherever he goes.

Presnail talked about his enthusiasm for the project, which began this spring.

“I have always liked shooting in rural settings and small towns,” Presnail said. “I like the history and the way things don’t seem to change. There’s a kind of honesty and realness that speaks to me. Also the opportunity to do a project of this scale really appealed to me. Waconia has kind of the trifecta of subjects I like to shoot. Rural settings with barns and fields, a small town atmosphere/architecture and a lake. Not to mention I look forward to getting to know both the town and the people better as the year goes on.”

The person responsible for this project happening in the first place is Cathy Menssen, one of the main teachers at the new Unearthed Arts center in Waconia. Menssen has known Presnail for quite some time, as she worked with him in a creative department where Presnail was a creative writer. Last year, before Unearthed Arts was created, she came up with an idea to show how gorgeous Waconia is to the community.

“I had an idea for someone to capture Waconia with their own eyes,” Menssen said. “I want this to have a big focus on the community and I think it would be beneficial if everyone saw it through an outsider’s view such as Paul’s. It gives the city an opportunity to see how beautiful it is, with its charming town, large lake, and rural areas. It will enhance the sense of community.”

Presnail said his objective is to help people see their community in a new light.

“As an outsider, I have no preconceptions. No familiarity that often causes people to put on a sort of blinders and only look in front of themselves so that they miss things off the beaten path,” he said. “My eyes are open to what residents may miss. I want to hear people say, ‘I never knew that was here.’ I want to show people the town that they love in a way that makes them proud to be from Waconia.”

Community is undoubtedly the biggest focus of this project. Menssen hopes to give Waconia residents the gift of art.

“When something happens in someone’s life, the community heavily supports you,” said Menssen. “There’s something special about Waconia I hope Paul can capture. The community’s very inviting and has supported local businesses. The Waconians support each other emotionally and financially. Waconia has a big heart.”

Menssen chose Presnail not just to get the outsider’s perspective, but also because she knows Presnail puts so much passion into his work and appreciates life with every glimpse of nature.

“Paul captures these moments because he sees and enjoys them,” said Menssen. “He becomes nostalgic, slows down, and appreciates the sites. Try taking off the glasses and enjoy the vision of the artist. I love how he focuses on the beauties of everyday life.”

Presnail has talked about how difficult it can be to dedicate time to a project such as this.

“I try to get out as often as I can,” said Presnail. “I don’t have as much time for dedicated photo expeditions as I used to, but as I said, I always carry a camera (a FujiFilm Xpro 1 or a Lumix DMC-LX5) so that I don’t miss things I’ll regret later. One of the things I like about this project is that it gives me something to focus — no pun intended — on. It’s a destination. An assignment.”

Presnail wants to make sure he can capture the festivities and environmental changes that occur throughout the year.

“One of the best things about small towns is the number of fairs and festivals during the year,” stated Presnail. “Occasions when the whole town turns out. Again, I want to know when things are happening so I can be there. So far Spring has been beautiful. I expect the rest of the season to follow suit. Oftentimes a photographer has to wait for the weather. Or for the light to change. Or for cars to get out of the road. That kind of thing. In terms of shots, I grew up with film so I know the value of composition. When you only have 24 shots, you don’t waste them. “

After the end of Presnail’s project in the spring of 2015, Menssen is hoping to hold an event that will showcase Presnail’s work in Waconia to the community. She predicts that the event will be a big community celebration that displays Presnail’s work outside Unearthed Arts’ gallery and art center.

Presnail said, “I would say that I’m honored to be a part of this project and I am excited to show the people of Waconia what I have discovered about their town and the people that live there.”

Menssen thinks that the art center will not be the only place Presnail’s work will be seen. She is also thinking of putting all the pictures together in a book to capture the moments and share it throughout the community.

“I have found that half of being a good photographer is being willing to stop the car and go back,” Presnail stated. “Some of the best shots I’ve ever taken have caught my eye at 70 miles an hour. You can’t say I’ll come back tomorrow. Even if you go by the same place a hundred times, it will be different every single time.

“I’m still finding my way around,” he continued. “My hope is that as I get to know people, they’ll point out some of their favorite things and places. In fact, I would invite people to contact the Unearthed Arts gallery with suggestions of things they’d like to see photographed.”


Contact Brady Lass at [email protected]


  • OscarTheCat

    What an excellent project! I love the books and DVDs that come out of these types of projects.