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ISSUE 120 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/14/2007

Huie'’s photography illuminates, challenges

By Shannon Merillat
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Here at St. Olaf, student and faculty art can be found anywhere from Tostrud to the Caf, but in the “real world” art is a little more elusive. Renowned Minnesotan photographer Wing Young Huie, named the “Artist of the Year” in 2000 by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, is trying to change that. During his lecture in Viking Theater Feb. 8 Huie discussed his artwork and what he hopes to accomplish with it.

Of his five other siblings, Huie, the youngest, is the only one born in the United States. His parents and his siblings were all born and raised in China. “It’s as if they left a part of themselves there,” he said of the older immigrants he sees. His photographs address the gulf between older immigrants and their children, as well as challenges he and other Chinese Americans face in realizing their identities. While the majority of his subjects are Asian Americans, his photographs beautifully reflect the racial and ethnic diversity in America, specifically Minnesota.

Huie's photos explore and challenge racial stereotypes. He spoke of the controversy surrounding the photo he chose for the cover of his book "“Frogtown: Photographs and Conversations in an Urban Neighborhood.”" The subject of the photo is a shirtless young Asian man, squeezing his eyes shut. His editors thought the image was too reminiscent of the Vietnam War. Huie explained to the audience that while the war was 30 years ago, all the footage and photographs in the media left such an impression on people that it still seems fresh. Even more remarkable is that the man was just getting his hair cut.

Huie focused the lecture on his five major projects: “"Frogtown,”" "“Rural Minnesota,”" "“Lake Street USA,"”" “Schalemar Flying Horse”" and "“Nine Months in America: An Ethnocentric Tour."” Aside from "“Nine Months,"” his projects all focus on very racially diverse neighborhoods. Huie’'s sincere interest in his subjects’ shines through in all of his photographs. Subjects’' own words accompany many of Huie's photos, namely those from the “"Lake Street"” project, but Huie makes a point to provide no printed explanations or didactics. He prefers to leave interpretation entirely up to the viewer.

Huie likened photographs to mirrors and windows. Most people, he explained, view photographs as windows to another culture or world, but photographs are also mirrors. People see in photographs only what they're capable of seeing and what they want to see.

What everyone will see in Huie’'s work is an arresting honesty. He skillfully manages to maintain a strong sense of his subjects’ dignity without compromising the striking sense of frankness -- not an easy feat to accomplish while photographing the founder of the Asian Worldwide Elvis Fan Club, dressed in a red sport coat and a rhinestone studded “Elvis” pin.

Early in his career, Huie took on the challenge of integrating art into the public sphere, exhibiting the photos from “"Lake Street”" and “"Frogtown"” in the very Minneapolis neighborhoods where he took them. With the permission of business owners, the “Lake Street” photographs were displayed in store windows and on the sides of buildings along a six-mile stretch of Lake Street. This thoroughfare is unique in that it runs through 15 very distinct neighborhoods, ranging from the trendy coffee shop-addled to the desperately poor. “"The only photographs you see in public are the ones in advertisements and on billboards,”" he said.

The photos ranged in size from eight-by-twelve inches to eight-by-twelve feet, making them impossible to ignore.

Many of the photos were taken in neighborhoods familiar to a number of Oles who hail from the Twin Cities or have spent time there. Saman Bemel-Benrud ‘'09 has a particularily strong connection with Huie's work -- he was in one of the photos Huie took at the May Day parade in Powderhorn Park. "“I felt so proud,”" Bemel-Benrud told Huie. “"It's really changed the way I feel about my neighborhood.”"

Huie’'s photographs are currently featured in the “RACE” exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul. For his next project, Huie will spend three months at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee photographing people suffering from dementia.

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