MOORHEAD - Collectively, Colburn Hvidsten III, Dave Wallis and Bruce Crummy framed how readers of The Forum saw their community from Hvidston's time as a college student in the early 1960s to Wallis' final day last October.
If you add up their individual careers, the photographers put in 108 years documenting the history of the area, telling stories one image at a time, in stark black and white and then in vivid color.
A celebration of their labor, "Bearing Witness: The Art of the Photojournalist," opened last week at Minnesota State University Moorhead's Art Gallery in the Roland Dille Center for the Arts. The display is up through June 29.
"What's remarkable is that it's extremely rare to have such long careers in a newspaper, but to have three concurrently is almost unheard of," said Mike Vosburg, The Forum's photo chief since 2002 and curator of the show. "It's a real snapshot of the Red River Valley. Nowhere else will you find images like this."
History and humanity
The show features shots from as far back as a 1960 campaign stop by then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy taken when Hvidsten was at University of North Dakota. There are scenes from accidents and events, disasters, celebrations and slices of life from the area.
"When you look at it like this, it's pretty awesome," Wallis said. "There are so many iconic photos in that exhibit that it's really something to look at as a whole."
He recalls favorites from each of his colleagues, like Crummy's shot of the frozen Gotzin Building in Grand Forks, draped in icicles after firefighters tried to save it from a blaze in the winter of 1979. Or Crummy's view looking through a hole at a smashed car in the former Moorhead K-Mart after a driver had crashed through the wall.
Hvidston's shot of a man rolling a tire back to a cab that lost the wheel is another favorite.
"I remember seeing that on the front page of The Forum when I was visiting here in high school," Crummy said. "That remains one of Colburn's best photos. It's got that action and it's a good news photo."
In turn, Crummy pointed out Wallis' shot of a couple outside their trailer in Northwood, N.D., the day after a tornado dropped a tree on the structure as they sought safety inside.
"He incorporated human emotion with all the twisted wood and the effects of the tornado," Crummy said.
Hvidston, who served as photo chief for years, said Wallis' strength was in planning out shots, while Crummy had a knack for capturing personal relationships.
Hvidston's own strength?
"Stubbornness," he said with a laugh.
He recalled his least favorite assignments - taking pictures of a group of businessmen just sitting or standing there.
"To me, that was just five mugshots," he said. "Cal Olson (former photo chief) always used to say, 'When you have to do it, you have to do it. Just take the damn thing and get on with life.'"
Wallis had his own idea of a bad job.
"I told (longtime Forum writer) Bob Lind the worst assignment would be a cat funeral in a bar. Anything involving any of those I did not like," Wallis said. "Once you get alcohol involved with people, it's not a good combination, and funerals are so personal and cats are the devil."
Black and white
Vosburg selected the works from a portfolio each photographer made upon retirement of their favorite shots.
While a number of the images were shot in color, the prints in this show are all in black and white so there's a cohesion, Vosburg said.
It was an executive decision the photographers agreed with.
"You take the color away and it really brings out the image because you're not distracted by color," Wallis said.
The only other adjustments for the exhibit was in a shot Hvidston grabbed as investigators discovered the severed body of Billy Wolf in two plastic bags in the Red River in 1978. Hvidston shaded the body parts to be less disturbing in newsprint, but the details show in the gallery.
Another of Hvidston's jarring photos shows rescuers pulling Alvaro Garza's body from the icy Red River in December 1987 after the 11-year-old had been submerged for 20 minutes. Hvidston recalled lobbying to use that shot, but Forum editors opted to play it safe and use another shot of the search for the youngster.
"The local paper is all about reporting local news. My position then was, and my position now is, that that's local news and should be in the paper," Hvidston said.
At the time, The Forum's policy was that photographers retained rights to the outtakes, so when the paper wouldn't run Hvidston's favorite shot, he sent it to the USA Today, which ran it the next day.
"Let me tell you, I got called into the office that morning," Hvidston said. He pointed out that he abided the paper's policy and nothing came of it, except to revise the policy so that photos remained property of the paper.
The exhibit doesn't just cover what happened in front of the lens, but reflects what was happening behind it. Photography at The Forum went digital in 2003. It wasn't just a change in format, but also how photographers worked. Wallis recalled shooting on 36-exposure rolls of film.
"You get to frame 30 and you start to get worried," he said.
Shooting was one thing, but getting the image to the newsroom was something else in the days before digital.
"I can remember processing film in the restroom at the end of the court at UND with one foot against the door so nobody would open the door when I was loading the film," Hvidston said.
Photographers would have to set up a darkroom to develop and print photos, then send them over phone lines with a big transmitter that took a minute per inch to process, at least if the line wasn't interrupted.
In the end, though, the job was rewarding for each man.
"Whether it was Wally's or Bruce's, just about every picture there has a story associated with it that wan't the story in The Forum," Hvidston said.
The trio served as the core of the photo staff for their 25 years together and was sometimes called "The Three Musketeers."
Wallis recalled having a party after Hvidston retired and introducing his former photo chief to his friends.
Hvidston corrected Wallis, "I wasn't your boss; I was your colleague."
"We made a great team," Wallis said.
If you go
What: "Bearing Witness: The Art of the Photojournalist" exhibit
When: Open 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Friday and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday through June 29
Where: Minnesota State University Moorhead's Art Gallery in the Roland Dille Center for the Arts, 801 13th St. S.