The Plains Art Museum exhibit, “On Place: Three Views of the Land”, started with a spot on the map and ended with three photographers looking at their relationship with the land.
Wayne Gudmundson, Stuart Klipper and Drake Hokanson had been longtime friends and often shared notes about their nearly 150 collective years of photography, but in all of that time, they had never gone out to shoot pictures together.
Despite their foundation in photography, a watercolor painting served as the inspiration for the show. Klipper’s partner had started a landscape north of Georgetown, Minn., and asked him to shoot from that vantage point so she had more reference.
In 2013 Klipper, from Minneapolis, and Hokanson, from LaCrosse, Wis., drove up with their gear, picked up Gudmundson, who then lived in Moorhead and set out for the site.
When they got to the location — the 170th Avenue Bridge over the Red River — they determined the exact spot and Klipper shot the painting’s view while Gudmundson and Hokanson sought different angles.
They compared notes, discussed the spot and their work, then decided to set out to find more locations to photograph. They drove until one of them said stop and then one, two, or all three would find a scene to capture if it suited them.
“We don’t casually try to find spots. Since we’re photographers, we try to find specific spots,” Gudmundson says, from his winter home in Arizona.
The exercise was thrilling for all three, and they agreed to do it again over the years, near the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers, the waterways that reflected each of their homes.
“We didn’t want to get tied to a recipe or a formula, because that never really bodes well,” Gudmundson says.
Rather, they worked by an old quote of the trade: “Photography is all a matter of where you stand.”
“It sounds real casual, but it’s a very precise statement,” Gudmundson says. “If you close one eye, you lose your depth perception and your vision becomes two dimensional, very photographic. And that sweet spot where you stand, changes the picture.”
The final result is the show at the Plains, which ends on Thursday. The show itself is nine photos, one from each photographer from one of the three river settings. Another encompassing exhibit shows a survey of each artist’s work with the focus again on the upper Midwest.
The larger display offers more insight into each individual’s style and allows the viewer to see that on a smaller scale in “On Place: Three Views of the Land”. The pairing of the two parts of the show also gives museum guests more basis to find similarities and differences between the artists, even within the confines of shooting the same location at the same time.
“I might say I have an appreciation of the openness of the upper Midwest, while they may have a stronger desire to put things in the picture,” Gudmundson says.
“There’s a sense of understanding of place that can only happen when when you slow down and all three of them live that,” says Andy Maus, director and CEO of the Plains.
He says the photographers didn’t just share road trips, but also an ideology in this show.
“It’s a little rebellious to show traditional photography right now. I appreciate that,” Maus says. “There’s something lost creating and composing traditional photos and that’s something that needs to be revisited with these photographs.”
“We went out looking for that one sweet spot and that led to a discussion on how we work, how our work is alike and different,” Gudmundson says. “We are traditionalists in the digital world.”