Photos on the Fences

Visitors view the outdoor Photoville FENCE photo display at MSUM. (Photo/Russ Hanson)

Nancy Edmonds Hanson

Has the pandemic trimmed back your travels and put a stop to seeing distant sights? The Arts Partnership has a remedy for that limited vision – several miles of photographic images that bring the world into Moorhead’s back yard.
It’s called the Photoville FENCE: a thousand feet of photographs by international artists plus 300 from seven top regional photogs, all printed large and brightly on vinyl banners and displayed in the great outdoors on fences in Moorhead, Fargo and West Fargo. The free exhibition will flaunt their vision of the world around them through the end of December in three sections. In Moorhead, the photos adorn the fence bounding the MSUM athletic field along Fourth Avenue South. In Fargo, the second set of oversized vinyl prints hang on the fence surrounding Rheault Farm on 25th Street South. And in West Fargo, the largest batch are pinned to the fence bounding the Scheels Soccer Complex along 13th Avenue South west of Sheyenne Street.
“It was just the right thing to do at just the right time,” says The Arts Partnership’s director, Dayna Del Val.
The Photoville outdoor project has displayed professional images on fences in some 60 cities since it was born in New York in 2012. This year marks the annual exhibit’s first visit to the Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo metro area, Dayna says. The enormous display – 1,000 feet by nearly 100 international photographers and 300 showcasing the seven area pros – is also being shown simultaneously here and in 10 more cities, including Atlanta, Brooklyn, Boston, Calgary, Denver, Durham, Houston, New Orleans, Sarasota and Seattle.
The Photoville FENCE was conceived in 2011 by Photo District News, a publication for pro shooters. It caught the eye of Moorhead’s W. Scott Olsen, who writes for several photo magazines.
“Scott brought the idea to us in May, asking, ‘Wouldn’t this be great?” Dayna reports. “We thought that if COVID didn’t settle down by fall, this could be a novel opportunity. We had a great conversation with my board, who said, ‘Great!’ Then we took it to 702 Communications. They said the same thing and gave us some money. So did the Convention and Visitors Bureau, and we were on our way.”
She adds, “Who would have thought our biggest challenge would be finding long enough fences?” She and special projects coordinator Danica McDonald persevered and located their three locations. On Nov. 1 and 2, the two women, along with board members, the rest of TAP’s staff and several volunteers, hung the special vinyl panels. They’ll be on view until the end of December.
Scott, who teaches nonfiction writing and journalism at Concordia College, submitted selections from his upcoming book, Scenes from a Moving Window. He’s currently looking for a publisher for this, his 13th title. It chronicles a 10-day trip last summer around the perimeter of the United States via Amtrak. As its name states, all the landscapes were taken from the moving train. His five photos are part of the West Fargo collection. (Others are displayed at Hector Airport. Part of a separate series called Difficult Doors is being shown on the first floor of Block E downtown.)
Other area photographers included in the outdoor gallery are MSUM’s Chris Mortenson, Char Marie Flood of Harwood, Jon Solinger of Pelican Rapids, Shane Balkowitsch and Jack Dura of Bismarck, and Monika Lawrence of Bemidji. Mortenson’s and Flood’s images are part of the Moorhead section.
Though the color and black-and-white photographs are handsome, this is no collection of just pretty pictures. Many of the collections of images tell gritty, even painful stories, speaking to painful issues past and present. “The display takes you to some very dark places,” Dana says. “Some are amazing, sobering images. Like some of the best photography, they have the power to shake our biased view of the world.”
Some address age-old subjects, like Jim Crow and African village life. Others are virtually up-to-the minute. One group set in London explores quarantine at home during the panic. Each panel includes the story of what the photo captures, adding context to the gripping visuals.
Normally the Photoville staff would help hang the collection, but COVID prevented their travel to Fargo. But that doesn’t mean connections weren’t made.
“At our second virtual meeting, one of the founders asked me, ‘Do you happen to know a Wes Del Val,’” Dayna says. “I told him, ‘That’s my brother.’ It turns out they’d worked together 20 years ago in New York City. It’s a very small world sometimes.”

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