The phrase “being in the right place at the right time” is often used to denote a fortuitous circumstance. When such a moment happens, the results can be life changing.
In 1952, a 13-year-old teenager from Montevideo and his grandfather traveled to Minneapolis to witness their first Laker game. That young man was John Peterson, and that game began a nearly seven-decade career in photography.

The phrase “being in the right place at the right time” is often used to denote a fortuitous circumstance. When such a moment happens, the results can be life changing.

In 1952, a 13-year-old teenager from Montevideo and his grandfather traveled to Minneapolis to witness their first Laker game. That young man was John Peterson, and that game began a nearly seven-decade career in photography.

When he was a kid, Peterson was a huge Minneapolis Lakers fan, and by by 1952, they had already won two NBA championships and were on the way to their third.

“In 1952, I didn’t realize how great the Lakers were and what they were about to accomplish,” said Peterson. “Five of the 1952 Lakers went on to become members of the NBA Hall of Fame.”

That day, the Lakers were playing the Rochester Royals in a regular season game. Peterson had brought along his 35 mm Retina 2A camera, along with his press 25 and press 22 flashbulbs.

“After the game, I found my way to the Lakers locker room and was invited in. I was given the nickname ‘Petey.’ I had my camera with and was allowed to take photos!” he said.

The Lakers had also allowed him to take photos underneath the basket during regular season games. Peterson attended many games, and took numerous photos over a period of two years, utilizing his 35 mm camera with Kodachrome ASA for color shots, and for black and white, a 1-1/4x3-1/4 speed graphic with super pancho press film and press 25 flashbulbs.

From 1949 to 1954, the Lakers won the NBA championship five out of six seasons. The Lakers moved to Los Angeles in 1960.

For a teenage boy, spending time with an NBA championship team was a thrill beyond anything he could imagine.

“Talking and kidding around with Mr. Basketball, George Mikan and his teammates was something else!” said Peterson.

He also made friends with Goose Tatum, one of the original Harlem Globetrotters.

“I helped the Goose with some of the humorous tricks that the Trotters still use to this day,” Peterson said.

Back in Montevideo, Peterson further indulged his passion for photography by working in a local studio doing black and white dark room work. According to Peterson, it was one of the first studios in town that had a dark room at the time.

At the young age of 16, Peterson photographed the first of what was to become many weddings over the course of his career.

“In 1957, I attended the Winona School of Photography in Winona Lake, Indiana,” he said. “In 1962, I was the owner of a small-town studio, and I also joined the Minnesota Professional Photo­gra­phers Association (MNPPA).”

By 1971, Peterson had earned both his master’s and craftsman degrees from the MNPPA, and in those nine years he did portrait, wedding, commercial, and scenic photography.

Over the course of his career, Peterson took pictures at over 1,600 weddings, 1,000 of which were in the Montevideo area. When it came to photography, his specialties included weddings, pets, high-key portraits, wildlife, and scenic shots.

Peterson took pictures for a variety of situations and occasions including some commercial work. He recalled a time he took photos for the Ford Motor Company, which was promoting their new Mercury Cougar.

“I was taking pictures to promote the car, and a goofy guy came in with a semi-trained live cougar. Ten of the 11 salesmen stood next to the cougar for the picture,” Peterson said.

After they finished, Peterson asked the trainer if he could remove the collar and leash for a headshot of the cougar, and after warning Peterson that the cougar was not fully trained, the trainer agreed to remove the collar. Peterson said, “He then asked if I wanted to get a shot of the cougar howling and I said if we could that would be great. So he cracked his whip on the floor, and back then you had one chance to get your shot. I got it, and I still have it to this day.”

That was not the only time Peterson worked with animals; he had numerous opportunities where he photographed anything from cats, dogs, and raccoons, to elk and buffalo, and even polar bears.

Peterson has done a lot of traveling over the years and he has a large catalog of scenic shots from those travels. One such instance was when he met a hunter who had asked him to join him on an African safari. The two spent 31 days in the jungles of Africa before returning to the states.

From 1967 to 1985, Peterson was awarded Top Portrait in the MNPPA six times. He also earned Top Wedding Album twice, and Top Commercial Photo once.

“When Kodak and Fuji offered gallery awards, I was awarded two Kodak and one Fuji award,” he said.

In 1980 he became president of the MNPPA, and in 1993 became president of the Northern Lights Regional. He was honored to be a councilor for MNPPA for many years, as well as a qualified judge.

For his efforts in photography, Peterson was awarded three MNPPA National Awards, and also had two photographs on the cover of the Professional Photographer magazine. Peterson has received close to 300 MNPPA merits throughout his career.

Now 82 years old, Peterson is semi-retired but the former Montevideo resident still has a deep passion for photography.

“I still use my Hasselbald and still use film,” he said. “I remember many of my photo sessions and weddings, including doing many celebrity sessions.”

Some of those sessions included photos of players for the Minnesota Twins. Peterson also took pictures of Don Larsen’s wedding. (Larsen was a pitcher for the New York Yankees and is the only pitcher in the history of baseball to pitch a perfect World Series game.)

Peterson’s experience as a teenager was recently featured in the Minneapolis StarTribune, which brought together two survivors of the 1952 NBA Minneapolis Lakers. Recently a third survivor has been discovered, who the surviving teammates had not seen or heard from 68 years.

Peterson has recently become a phone pal with Bobby Harrison, the starting guard who let “Petey” into the Lakers locker room when he was 13 years old. The two call each other every 10 days, and enjoy sending each other pictures they’ve taken, especially of their dogs.

In 1988 Peterson moved to Hibbing, which has been his home since leaving Montevideo. However, Peterson remembers his time in Montevideo with heartfelt fondness.

All in all, Peterson has had a great career in photography, and it all started when a starry-eyed 13-year-old was invited into the locker room of the NBA’s premier basketball team!