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John Lamb, Published May 09 2012

Moorhead photographer Wayne Gudmundson’s work featured in ‘Faces of the Oil Patch’ documentary

FARGO - Well-known in the area as a photographer of the land and sky, Wayne Gudmundson trained his eye on an entirely different subject for his latest project: people.

The Moorhead artist teamed up with Prairie Public Television for “Faces of the Oil Patch.” Gudmundson’s still photos are featured throughout the documentary as a way of introducing subjects.

Some of the photos are displayed at North Dakota State University’s Memorial Union Gallery, with a reception at 5 tonight. The exhibit will eventually travel around the state.

Following the reception, the documentary will be screened. It premieres on PPTV, Channel 13, at 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Gudmundson worked with Bob Dambach, director of TV at PPTV, on “A Considered View,” a video look at the photographer’s work that premiered in 2010.

The two wanted to team up again, so Gudmundson accompanied a camera crew to western North Dakota a handful of times in the past 18 months or so. He would set out on his own, introducing himself and asking questions, like why people were there, where they came from and what they thought of the situation.

Acting a bit as a reporter, he would introduce his subjects to the camera crew to be filmed.

“We wanted to not so much tell the overarching history of the boom and what boom and bust mean for a geological or sociological perspective, but just what’s it like to live and work out there,” Gudmundson explains.

The photographer had worked the area before in the early 1980s for a project on that decade’s oil boom. This time around though, he left behind his large-format camera and black and white film for a hand-held digital camera and color photos.

“It gave me a chance to do what I’ve been teaching, to pick up a digital camera and make pictures,” the Minnesota State University Moorhead mass communications teacher says with a laugh. “It was a fun departure. I quite liked it … It’s much more spontaneous, more fluid.”

“He’s such a wonderful photographer,” says Dambach.

Another departure is the inclusion of people and not the natural, rural landscapes and horizons viewers normally see in his photos.

“There are still a few landscape shots, of course, because in any bit of storytelling you have to put this thing on the map, so to speak, and the map in this situation is western North Dakota,” Gudmundson says.

While stories had prepared him for the housing crunches, rough roads and the increase in crime, he wasn’t prepared for what shape the landscape is in.

“The part that hit me the hardest was, having photographed in North Dakota for 35 years, I’ve always enjoyed the quiet openness of western North Dakota … and it’s gone now,” Gudmundson says.

“At night you see flares all over and there are trucks driving all over. It’s going to be that way. A part of North Dakota that I really had a fondness for is gone.”

If you go

What: “Faces of the Oil Patch” reception and screening

When: 5-7 tonight

Where: Memorial Union Century Theater, North Dakota State University, Fargo

Info: Free. (701) 239-7535

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533