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John Lamb, Published December 22 2013

Minneapolis photographer Wing Young Huie focuses camera on overlooked, ‘Hidden Fargo’

FARGO - People returning to Fargo-Moorhead, or just visiting over the holidays, can get a different look of the area at the Plains Art Museum.

Minneapolis photographer Wing Young Huie focuses his camera on overlooked pockets of the community in “Hidden Fargo in Plain Sight.” The show is up in the Starion Financial Gallery through Sunday.

Huie’s previous work capturing the communities and cultures on the University Avenue and Lake Street in Minneapolis earned him praise.

The Plains show contrasts outward appearances with inner-dialogues of random strangers and workshop participants from a series of visits here over the past year. He worked with minority groups and walked the streets with his camera finding interesting subjects.

In many of the images, people hold a chalkboard with their written response to one of Huie’s questions:

“What are you?”

“What advice would you give to a stranger?”

“How do you think others see you? What don’t they see?”

“Describe an incident that changed you.”

“How does race or your cultural identity affect you?”

“What is your favorite word? Why?”

“What matters?”

Christian Gion, interim curator at the Plains, said the goal was to start a discussion, not only between the photographer and the subject, but also the subject and the viewer, or the rest of the community.

“You’ll see some pretty revealing and in some cases heartbreaking responses,” Gion says.

“The fact that someone could be so open and honest with someone they’ve only known for a short time” is disarming, he added.

Just inside the gallery, visitors are greeted by a picture of Newzad Brifki, founder and director of the Kurdish Community of America in Moorhead, where Huie spent time in 2012.

Brifki holds a chalkboard that says, “I am Columbus of America trying to find the right opportunity to land on.”

“Coming here and starting over, I can have the chance to start all over and have the American dream,” Brifki says, explaining his statement.

“It’s hard walking down the street and saying, this is who I am. These pictures tell a story,” he says.

Brifki came to America in 1992 as a refugee from Kurdistan, Iraq. He says people may see him and be suspicious seeing a Middle Eastern man, and not see him for how he sees himself – a businessman, a Rotarian and a community leader.

Near the photo of Brifki is a color shot of a woman wearing a Captain America hoodie and holding a chalkboard reading, “Most of my Friends Hate America.” Huie ran into her outside the Sons of Norway in Fargo.

Ann Arbor Miller, a Fargo-based photojournalist who worked with Huie on parts of the project was impressed at how he meets interesting photo subjects in his own everyday life, on his way to get lunch or to an appointment.

“He’s presenting things that are there for everyone to see, but they don’t actually see them,” Miller says.

And he’s able to coax out hidden feelings and secrets in short order.

Gion points to a photo, called “North Dakota State University,” of two young women sitting in a stairwell.

One girl’s chalkboard reads, “I’m no better than an animal, but all types of animals are beautiful.” The other’s reads, “A bastard child, anti-social painter with a negative self image.”

Near that one is a picture, “Dave and Shevan,” of two young boys. Dave’s sign reads, “I never saw my parents happy.” Shevan’s says, “People see how you look and they don’t see how much talent you have.”

The photo was taken at the Kurdish Community of America, where Shevan designed the logo, Brifki says.

“How you view people isn’t necessarily what’s going on beneath the surface,” Gion says. “It’s really personal, and I think people in this community really want to see that art. It’s deceptively simple work… There just seems to be another story to be told.”

Visitors can try their own hand at the project. The gallery features an iPad mounted onto the wall, near Huie’s questions and a number of chalkboards on which participants can write their own answers.

“There is a universal sense to his work. Words are powerful tools. Words paired with photos can be twice as powerful,” Miller says. “He creates a space where those conversations can happen and they don’t necessarily happen in ordinary life.”

If You Go

WHAT: Wing Young Huie: Hidden Fargo in Plain Sight”

WHEN: On display through Dec. 29

WHERE: Plains Art Museum, 704 1st Ave. N., Fargo

INFO: (701) 232-3821

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