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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published February 12 2010

Photos offer view of ND

Roddy MacInnes and Nina Weiste never knew each other. They just clicked.

MacInnes, a Colorado photographer, bought two photo albums in 1995 at a flea market in Denver that contained black-and-white snapshots belonging to Weiste.

It was the start of a journey to portray the woman and her native North Dakota landscape.

“The more I looked at the photographs, the more I felt that I knew the woman,” said MacInnes, a University of Denver photography professor.

The albums contained a few clues: Weiste’s name, the year 1917 and a reference to the “Jim” River.

After some research, MacInnes learned that the river was a nickname for the James River, and Weiste had taken the photographs at age 16 in Ellendale, N.D.

They were snapshots she took while attending teacher’s training school in Ellendale, MacInnes learned.

“They look like very contemporary photos, except people were dressed like they would in 1917,” MacInnes said. “They were very fresh and very lively, as if someone was celebrating their life.”

Weiste later moved to Colorado and died in 1985. MacInnes tried to locate her family members but was unsuccessful.

He then decided to travel to North Dakota to explore how to create a photo project using Weiste’s snapshots as inspiration.

MacInnes has spent the past five years working on a project he calls “Jim River, Sad but Sympathetic.” It’s named after some text written in Weiste’s album.

He traveled to North Dakota – primarily Dickey County, about 130 miles southwest of Fargo – and photographed the people who now live in the area Weiste photographed.

“As I occupy and re-photograph the landscape that was familiar to her in 1917, I seek to create metaphors that resonate between her photographic record, and my own,” MacInnes said in his artist statement.

This past fall, MacInnes spent about 10 weeks in the Ellendale area with the help of grant funding, including a community art grant from the Ellendale Area Arts Council.

Ken Schmierer, president of the arts council, said he liked the story behind MacInnes’ project.

“It’s very interesting how he stumbled on those and how he took that life’s path following this woman,” Schmierer said.

Now MacInnes is back in Colorado putting the project together. He plans to return to North Dakota in the future.

MacInnes, originally from Scotland, had only passed through North Dakota prior to stumbling upon the photo albums.

“If someone said to me five years ago, ‘Pick anywhere in world to do a photography project,’ I think the last place in the world would have been North Dakota,” MacInnes said.

“This woman took me there, her photographs took me there. Now North Dakota is one of the most exciting places in the world for me.”


- More information about his project, including additional photos, can be found at www.roddymacinnes.com.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590