Wing Young Huie manages to top himself againWhile many of Wing Young Huie’s professional pursuits have centered upon Minneapolis and Saint Paul, his upbringing was all about Duluth.
While many of Wing Young Huie’s professional pursuits have centered upon Minneapolis and Saint Paul, his upbringing was all about Duluth. Not only was the acclaimed photographer born in the Zenith City, he was also raised here and, for a spell, attempted to make a living taking people’s pictures up here.
If you’re lucky enough to find a collection of old Lake Superior Port Cities magazines (a terrific publication that was the spiritual predecessor to Lake Superior Magazine), thumb through them a bit and you’ll likely run into one of his “Portraits for the ’80s” ads — not to mention a handful of worth-seeking-out photo essays.
“I actually got my start there after graduating from J-school at the University of Minnesota,” Huie said in a recent e-mail exchange.
But that was then, and the native Duluthian’s career has since skyrocketed. Before he released his book “Looking for Asian America” in 2007, Huie transformed Minneapolis’ Lake Street into one big gallery.
“I remember people saying, ‘What are you going to do now? No matter what you do, you’re going to be remembered for this, a five-mile photography exhibit,’” the photographer said of that turn-of-the-century project when the Budgeteer spoke to him a couple years back.
Well, if you’re Huie, you up the ante a little bit. Enter the University Avenue Project, a six-mile photography exhibit which recently opened along the popular Twin Cities thoroughfare of the same name:
Budgeteer: What have reactions to the University Avenue Project been like? Have they made all your time and energy worth it?
Huie: The opening was great. Maybe 600-plus people looking at the 250 photos in windows and sides of buildings along [the road’s] six miles, culminating in a ceremony at the projection site at 8 p.m.
The feeling of that many people gathered in an outdoor space to view and listen to the slide show of disparate and common realities was powerful. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. You could tell people were visibly moved.
The combination of images and music in a communal outdoor space is powerful in a neighborhood that is stigmatized by the media.
With Lake Street, people looking at photos on the street parallels the experience on University Avenue. People love the idea of having such public representation, although the reactions at the projection site is more emotional and rapt. One woman I ran into on the street — someone told her I was the photographer — was elated about seeing the photos. She kept on thanking me, saying, “People don’t know about us. They have no idea.”
In subsequent projection nights, even when the weather was cold and damp, handfuls of people showed, including couples with arms around each other sitting on benches. On warmer nights, about 40 people on average have attended. One homeless man, who was a sporting a broken nose received the night before, sat through it over an hour and donated a dollar. Another woman left in tears.
This is just the beginning, and we’re focused on making people aware that the projections are nightly until the end of October.
… Certainly this is the biggest project I’ve done, and I am fortunate that Public Art Saint Paul is producing it and so much of the heavy lifting was done by them.
It’s been intense and, of course, all worth it. I’m lucky to be able to do what I do.
Was the inspiration for the chalkboard messages a way of getting around people not traditionally reading the text in photography books if they’re just paging through it? On that, did any handwritten messages in particular stand out to you?
I’ve interviewed the people in my photos in previous projects and included their words alongside the photos. With this I wanted to incorporate the words directly into the photos, which I think makes seeing their handwriting more intimate and revealing.
There is such a range of answers, so it’s hard to choose. These come to mind: “I feel like a fish swimming around in my thoughts” and “Never let your fears determine your decision.”
Back when we spoke in ’07, you said “Lake Street USA” didn’t impact you personally so much as it impacted you professionally. Because of this project’s strong messages about culture and race identity, do you feel differently about this new one?
Actually, I feel both impacted me personally and professionally. It’s hard to separate my personal and professional life, because they are so intertwined — sometimes to the point that it’s not good and sometimes for the better. My personal life becomes swallowed up by what I do as a photographer. I’m trying to separate the two, but I don’t know if I’m any better at it.
For those of us who haven’t spent a lot of time on University Avenue, what are some highlights? Where do you hang our or grab a bite to eat when you’re on that road?
There’s so much to experience. Some of the best Vietnamese and Cambodian food in the country is on the Avenue. But there’s so much variety: Spiro’s Mediterranean Market, Kim Huoy Chor, Ngon, Que Nha, Saigon Restaurant & Bakery, Little Szechuan, Cheng Heng, Best Steak House, Russian Tea House, Black Sea (Turkish) and Snelling Cafe (Eritrean).
Finally, how are you going to top this project? Have you even started to think about what’s next?
Maybe a seven-mile exhibit? Part of what I want to do is create multiple traveling exhibits culled from 30 years of work, available for schools, libraries, galleries and museums.
Perhaps a project on love.
And perhaps another one that is exclusively chalkboard, traveling all over the country in all facets of society, prisons to CEOs, rural, urban, suburban….
NEWS TO USE
Details on Wing Young Huie’s latest Twin Cities public photography display can be found at www.theuniversityavenueproject.com.