HIBBING — There’s an art to taking a good wildlife photo, and few Minnesota photographers can turn photos into art as inspiring as Anthony “Tony” Edward Kuznik.
Recognizing his talent, Rep. Julie Sandstede, DFL-Hibbing, and St. Louis County Commissioner Mike Jugovich were among those who asked Kuznik to show his work in the county courthouse. This week, Kuznik and his wife, Robin Kuznik, finally agreed to install more than 40 photos in the public space.
“I hope people will enjoy them,” said a humbled Kuznik, 79, who did not take commission for the photos that were shot in several African and European countries as well as in Florida and Alaska in the U.S. One of his favorites is of an impala, the image revealing the muscular tone of a medium-sized antelope able to run and zig-zag a maximum of 50 mph in the grasslands of eastern and southern Africa.
Born in Ely, Kuznik grew up the oldest of four children who enjoyed lots of fishing and hunting. But in high school, he’d also played clarinet and saxophone in dance bands in local pubs. “I’d play music on Friday nights and then go canoeing in the Boundary Waters in the a.m., duck hunt, set up tents and fish for the rest of Saturday,” Kuznik told the Hibbing Daily Tribune. “Music, wilderness and wildlife have always been important to me.” It was during his teenage years when Kuznik began using a Kodiak point-and-shoot to capture photos of his outdoor excursions to share his experiences with friends and family.
Kuznik went on to earn music degrees at Bemidji State and then Moorhead State, before obtaining a master’s degree in counseling and guidance at Moorhead and finally a doctorate in education at the University of Iowa. He became the vice chancellor at the University of Minnesota in Crookston for 14 years and then served as president at HCC from 1986 to his retirement in 2004.
Throughout those years, the well educated Kuznik was using Pentax film cameras, his first given to him by a former student who tracked one down while playing in the National Symphony Orchestra in Japan in the 1960s. Throughout his education and professional life, he would judge 4-H photography contests and later take photos of his kids’ sports events for a local newspaper. Fourteen years ago, he retired from his post at HCC and decided to take his Nikon camera around the world.
Since then, Kuznik has taken trips to Thailand, China, Russia, Tanzia, Liberia, Honduras and Argentina, among other countries. He often travels with the Gideons International, an evangelical Christian association responsible for distributing copies of the Bible in hotel rooms across the nation. He has gone on many mission trips where he finds himself taking photos of his cultural experiences and interactions with the communities.
“The world is a wonderful place and there’s so much to see and observe,” Kuznik said. “After traveling for a while, you start to realize that we’re pretty much alike. People get up, go to work and try to support their families.”
Kuznik thought for a second, before adding: “My wife is nice enough to let me travel.” He smiled when explaining how Robin Kuznik retired this year from her teaching position at Hibbing High School. This summer, he plans to spend time with her and look for grizzly bears in Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve. The Kuzniks have five children who have become interested in photography and travel. Two of their sons are planning their own trips to Ireland and Slovenia this year.
Despite displaying his photos at the Reif Center Gallery in Grand Rapids in 2013, Kuznik rarely exhibits his photos, never enters contests and does not post his work online. He does not have social media. Instead, he admits to keeping lots of 8x10 photo albums in his home. For him, the combination of photos and travel run deep and can be traced back to his childhood of figure out how to use the point-and-shoot outdoors.
“It seemed like a good way to record what I was doing,” Kuznik said. “I think taking photos is creating memories.”