Number 86: Wing Young Huie
Years spent living in MN: All my life. I was born and raised in Duluth.
You don't have to spend an afternoon in a museum to view the work of Wing Young Huie. The award-winning photographer not only captures Minnesota communities in photos, but he often later exhibits his work throughout that neighborhood as well. His projects over the years have been ambitious, to say the least. He received national attention in 2000 with "Lake Street USA," a series of public art pieces which sprawled down the street. Publications of his photography have included a nine month, nation-wide exploration of what is means to be Asian American (Looking for Asian America: An Ethnocentric Tour by Wing Young Huie). His most recent effort, "The University Avenue Project," featured 450 pieces projected onto a variety of buildings and public spaces along a six-mile stretch of the street. His projects are a fascinating exploration and documentation of neighborhoods that are constantly changing, and serve as an important reminder of just how diverse Minnesota truly is.
[jump] Name three things that are inspiring your work right now:
I am reminded of Chuck Close's remark: "Inspiration is for amateurs." But that aside, I am inspired by my next door neighbor, the painter Barbara Kreft, who may be the most devoted artist I know; Stephen B, who may be the most devoted volunteer I know (he volunteered so much for "The University Avenue Project" that he seemed omnipresent); and Steve Nash, the most creative basketball player I've ever seen.
Name three things that inspired and/or motivated you as a budding creative type:
I came of age photographically in the '80s. The artist Garry Winogrand--it was at his one week workshop at Film in the Cities in St. Paul circa 1980 that I decided to become a photographer. He said many things I still think about, such as, "The more you shoot the more you shoot." David Lynch's Blue Velvet also made a deep impression on me, particularly the opening sequence with the dreamy/creepy scenes of Americana, ending with the guy watering his lawn having a heart attack, then the camera's descent into the heart of darkness of the manicured lawn. I was also into Henry Miller.
What was your last big project?
"The University Avenue Project" is a six-mile public installation of 450 photographs ranging in size from 8 x 10 inches to 30 x 45 feet (visible for a mile) installed along University Avenue in St. Paul--produced by Public Art Saint Paul--that was up for six months this year and ended on Halloween night. Tens of thousands of people saw it every day whether they wanted to or not. The centerpiece was an outdoor projection site where 450 images were viewed on a 40-foot screen, accompanied by a soundtrack from 50 local musicians, that became a town square drawing over 5,000 people from all walks of life.
What do you have going on now or coming up in the near future that should be on our radar?
I just shipped an 80-piece exhibit (retrospective from 11 of my projects taken over 30 years) to Beijing that is facilitated by the U.S. Embassy there and Arts Midwest here. It will travel to maybe five cities in China. I'll be there early December. It'll be my first time in China! I'm also starting another project commissioned by the Weisman Museum in which I'll photograph the cultures at the University of Minnesota and the surrounding neighborhoods (projected exhibition date: summer 2012).
Creative/career high point (so far)?:
"The University Avenue Project" is the most complex and largest undertaking so far, but because of Public Art Saint Paul's experienced guidance and effort we did everything we wanted to do and it all worked out.
What has been your biggest challenge as an artist?
Most of my projects have put me in a financial hole, but slowly I've been able to carve out an income as an artist by cobbling together various activities. I represent myself and have my own galley--my prices are very accessible. I've given several hundred lectures in the past 15 years. Sometimes it seems that talking about what I do has become more important than taking pictures.
How has the local scene changed since you began your career?
There were more commercial galleries 10 years ago, but in a way the arts scene has gotten bigger with alternative galleries mushrooming everywhere.
Which of your photographs surprised you the most afterwards? Why?
(See right) When I was photographing this scene I didn't think I got much, but it's now become one of my favorites. I guess you never really know.
Which was the hardest to take? Why?
(See below) It wasn't really that hard, but it took more effort than I usually expend. I followed this guy who was dragging a 26 pound crucifix from the state capitol to downtown Minneapolis on a really hot day trying to bring awareness to the plight of Hmong still in refugee camps in Thailand. He was trying to draw media attention, but he didn't really know much about how to do it, or even how to send a press release. So there was no one media there, just me. I called the Strib and Pioneer Press but they weren't too interested. I ended up taking around 100 photos over a two-mile stretch before quitting.
Do you have a suggestion for someone whose work we should be checking out? Feel free to leave your top picks in the comments.
Past creatives, so far: