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Washed-up cowboys, lady mechanics, homeless philosophers--photographer Wing Young Huie has seen it all. Now, by hanging 600 of his Lake Street portraits in public, he's ready to show the city to itself.

Huie has been living in the studio for the past two years, although the signs of regular human occupancy have been mostly swallowed by Lake Street-related flotsam and jetsam: stacks of envelopes, photos strung out along the walls like Christmas lights, forgotten Post-It notes. The darkroom, which is shrouded in black cloth, is adjacent to the kitchen, where dishes wait patiently in the sink above a small stash of half-empty liquor bottles. A living space, less than ten-feet square, has been carved out of the center of the room and furnished with a couch, a television, and an overflowing bookshelf. There are few personal effects that don't relate to Huie's work. Even the studio's sleeping quarters, tucked in a small alcove near the rear of the room, are only a few feet from an aqua iMac computer; you can imagine him working on the project in his sleep.

The studio's resident felines--one tabby, one black--are wound together in a patch of sunlight. Sprawled around them is Huie's crew: one full-time assistant, a friendly young woman named Alison Ziegler; and a squadron of college-age interns. They've spent the last week soliciting window space from businesses along Lake Street, and are now exchanging anecdotes. "The guy asked me, 'Got any pictures of black people?' Then he goes, 'Well, if we have a black and a Mexican, I suppose we need an Asian.' 'What about white people?' I asked him. 'I guess we'll need one of those, too.'

The morning's business is curating the exhibit--meticulously choosing which photos will end up where. Laid out in no particular order, the montage is disorienting; the effect is like looking into a swaying, stirring crowd and trying to pick out a friendly face. The variety, too, induces a pleasurable vertigo: Here is an old urban cowboy shuffling across a busy intersection; a man in a gorilla costume, captured at the Uptown Art Fair; a used-car salesman 20 years past the best day of his life; an American Indian muralist keeping his eyes on the sky like El Greco's Jesus; a congregation worshiping in a shadow-cooled mosque; a Tibetan monk at rest; a barrel-chested man holding a tiny puppy between two meaty fingers; a kid with gravity-defying hair lifting his shirt to show off a tattoo that announces "Punk is not dead" (except the tattoo artist must have taken liberties, because it actually looks like "Pank is not deak").

Teddy Maki

Some of the images are overtly political. One is of a figure pushing a shopping cart full of soda cans beneath a McDonald's arch that reads "Billions and billions served." Another finds a homeless man, face scarred to the texture of beaten leather, sitting in front of the Heart of the Beast puppet theater's marquee, which is advertising a show titled "Between the Worlds. Songs of Dark and Light." A steel lamppost cuts the frame into two, so that the man is centered in one and the marquee lights are in the other. It's deep winter, and as Huie shot the photo the day was dying quickly. "My name is Psycho," the man tells us.

"A lot of people are invisible," Huie says simply.

For all its discordant variety, a thread of calm runs through the collection. It's something about the way people meet Huie's camera--steady, even defiant--and something about the way Huie meets his subjects--level, patient, undemanding. All photographs capture light. That's what a photograph is--a negative impression of light on colloidal particles of silver. Some photos also capture the mechanics of grace.

Huie stops in front of a picture he took last year. It's of a Vietnamese poet gazing happily out the window of an Uptown café as life slurs by on Lake Street. He rides the bus in from the suburbs every day to sit and watch. The caption adjacent the photo reads, "When I have pain, I have to write. After I write, I have more pain. I feel better for a short time. Then I feel more pain."

"It's like a little short story," Huie muses. "The photo looks so different after you read the words. I mean, that says it all about art, doesn't it?"

 

Huie's favorite photo is a 1963 Garry Winogrand zoo scene in which a group of spectators is shown staring down into a walrus tank. The animal, meanwhile, is gazing straight into the lens of the camera. Its expression (if a walrus can, in fact, be said to have an expression) is one of innocent curiosity--an odd juxtaposition to the rapt gawking of the human onlookers. Huie likes the photo, he says, because it's the first picture that ever struck him as funny. He captures its appeal nicely: "You see the people. You see the walrus. Then you laugh."

It's not hard to see why this tricky tableau resonates for Huie. Winogrand's photos are so much about perception, and as a young man growing up in the Central Hillside neighborhood of Duluth, Huie was often aware of being seen. His father was an immigrant from Guangdong province in China, an industrious man who worked his way up from dishwasher to become a restaurateur. "My parents were not greatly concerned about my knowing or keeping Chinese traditions, except for holidays such as Chinese New Year," Huie wrote in the preface to his first book of photos. "On those occasions, my mother would make me pray with her in front of our makeshift household altar, decorated with fruit and incense. The only times I spoke Chinese were at home with her, and those became fewer as I grew older."

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