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Dean Madson: Telling stories for 50 years

Dean Madson, center, with Mike and Ashlie Moldenhauer, the last bride and groom he photographed, and Dick and Linda Galletin, the first couple he photographed in 1968. Madson retired this summer after being a wedding photographer for 50 years. Submitted photo

In 1968, Dick and Linda Galletin tied the knot in a Catholic church in St. Paul, with a reception in the church's basement.

Spring Valley resident Dean Madson, then a journalism student at UW-River Falls, borrowed a school camera, grabbed some film and captured it all.

Something must have stuck.

Fifty years later, Mike and Ashlie Moldenhauer celebrated their marriage at The Hidden Meadow and Barn in Pepin, with Madson serving as both the photographer and officiant. It was the last of more than 1,300 weddings that Madson has photographed.

"I know some people will still call," Madson said, admitting he might get roped into a few more.

Madson first took an interest in photography at UWRF where he worked for the Student Voice and the school yearbook. His career as a photographer took off from there, and he started his own business.

He wasn't always working as a photographer full time. For 20 years he was employed during the week, and then filled his weekends with weddings. He also took family and senior photos, which often fed into more wedding gigs.

When full time he would spend 90 hours a week working from June to September, and keeping busy starting in May through Christmas.

The company quickly expanded beyond just him, with several other photographers working for him at one time, covering the five or six weddings the company was hired for in a day.

Madson has photographed weddings small and large, from church basements to the St. Paul Cathedral, Lambeau Field and the Grand Ole Opry.

His favorite weddings are ones that may be considered less grandiose, but contain all the character of the couple, and plenty of entertainment.

Madson said he has no personal style in terms of wedding photography, and instead tries to capture what the bride wants.

"I'm there to take your pictures, not make the pictures," he said.

Madson asks couples to create a scrapbook of poses and shots they like. Though his favorite pose is the dip.

"Pictures should tell a story, you shouldn't have to explain them," Madson said.

Madson has never been bored through the thousands of ceremonies and receptions.

"Every wedding was different," he said. "It was still a challenge."

Photographing a wedding isn't easy work. The use of a pedometer at one showed him he walked more than 10 miles, running up and down the aisle to get just the right shots, and roaming around the reception and dance.

He's witnessed firsthand as wedding trends have changed from church ceremonies to ones at golf courses, parent's homes, and now of course, barns.

"I don't know how many barns I've been to," Madson said.

Capturing the ceremonies has changed just as much as the events themselves. Madson was at a convention years ago when a speaker first introduced him to the digital camera as the future of photography. At the time there was grumbling from the audience. Madson himself wasn't keen at first either.

"I resisted it probably a little bit more than I should have," Madson said.

But after further seeing how the industry change affected his business, he began using a hybrid of film and digital to shoot weddings, and found he didn't do anything with the film.

When shooting film, couples had the option of getting a 75- or 100-picture package. With digital Madson provides between 400 and 700 photos on average, along with the copyrights, a DVD, a flash drive and an engagement session.

As digital photography has become mainstream, the business of photography has changed. The convention where he was first exposed to the new technology is no longer held as participation decreased. Madson said he's not sure if he would have been able to make a career of photography if he started now.

Though Madson has long since made the transition to digital photography, he still emphasizes the importance of printing pictures. They often last longer than cell phones, and they can be passed down to grandchildren. Too many people keep saying "someday," Madson said, someday they'll print the photos.

"We are in a generation of lost memories," he said.

After shooting so many weddings, Madson took his involvement a step further and became licensed as an officiant. He then offered his officiating services alongside his photography, not only capturing the precious moments but leading them as well.

"I'm already there," he said.

Through it all he's continued to feel the great honor, and pressure, of the job he does.

"You can't do this over again," Madson said.

That's why he brings an insurance camera to take back up photos, in case something happens to the primary one.

"A disposable camera is nothing more than a computer with a lens on it," Madson said. "It cannot be trusted."

Back in the day, he'd bring extra film, different kinds from different brands, just to be sure. He still has the negatives of nearly every wedding he's shot, and has filled requests for prints.

Now when he gets home from shooting a wedding, he will immediately burn all the photos onto a DVD that is then kept in his unattached garage — in case his house burns down.

That's part of the reason why at 71, Madson feels it's time to retire. Though he's healthy and feels great, Madson said he's reached an age where he doesn't want to risk something happening to him, and affecting a couple's wedding.

"The time has just come," he said. "I don't trust myself."

Over the years he's lost sleep over the idea that he might "blow a wedding." He always has a backup photographer in mind, and avoids certain activities before a big day.

Now, Madson can take a breath, and take a rest. Though he'll miss what he called the greatest job — preserving memories.

"It's been good to me," he said.

Rebecca Mariscal

Rebecca Mariscal joined the Hudson Star Observer as a reporter in 2016. She graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a degree in communication and journalism. 

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