WSU students’ Pandemic Portraits Project is currently on display in shop windows Along 3rd Street in downtown Winona. The gallery depicts the everyday lives of Winona residents during the pandemic and is designed to enable safe, distanced viewing from the public. All of the portraits on display were taken by WSU students.
According to WSU Gallery and Art Collection Coordinator and Assistant Professor Roger Boulay, the impetus for the project was thework of renowned Twin Cities-based photographer, Wing Young Huie, who is known for his storefront exhibitions in St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Boulay considered Huie’s approach “a really good exhibition strategy for the pandemic because the work is in storefront windows and anyone can see them safely from outside without having to enter an interior gallery space.” Huie collaborated with Boulay’s students through virtual workshops, guiding their approach to photographing strangers on the street.
One of Boulay’s students, Amanda Chapman-Vruno, worked both as a photographer on the assignment and as one of several gallery interns helping Boulay set up exhibitions at WSU. While assisting Boulay during the Pandemic Portraits Project, Amanda said her “goal with arranging the images was to use juxtaposition to make the viewer think.”
Boulay’s students worked to establish the diversity of the Winona community and their response to the pandemic. Amanda said this was a key point of consideration when setting up the galley space, making sure that “we have masked and unmasked figures, young people and older people, people of all different ethnicities.”
In addition to the novel approach to exhibition, students were excited about having a reason to get out of the house during lockdown. One of the student photographers, Ajay Jorgenson, said that “I just moved here at the start of the school year, and did not explore much of Winona prior to this project. Being involved in this assignment made me venture outside campus territory and did make me feel a sense of community in Winona.” According to another student, Lydia Velishek, “this was probably the first time I had walked main street and over the course of the assignment I’d walked all over downtown Winona and went to different parks … stuff that I would have never done.”
Inspiring students to further their connection to the wider Winona community is always at the fore for professor Boulay, who “pandemic or no pandemic, encourages [his] students to get out and know the city as much as they can.” Even during a normal semester Boulay finds that “it can be easy for students to sequester themselves into the WSU bubble.” The Pandemic Portraits Project allowed his students a “safe way to go out and make a new connection … even if it’s just for a few minutes.”
The exhibition runs from October 26th – December 9th.
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