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MCTC Photography Student and Vietnam Vet Restores War Photos

Posted on: August 4th, 2014 by insidemctc 1 Comment

Unboxed after 40 years, Vietnam images exhibited in Richfield

Published in the Richfield Sun-Current August 1, 2014 by Andrew Wig.

Photo of children by James Thompson

James R. Thompson’s lens often captured images of shy children peeking at him from behind objects, curious, but wary of the outsiders in their midst. At the same time, he also saw, as he put it, “kids pretty much acting like kids.” (Photo courtesy of James. R. Thompson and republished with permission of the author.)

The black-and-white photos from halfway around the world were supposed to be lost to history, stuck in a box who-knows-where.

Shot in 1971, they depicted the Vietnam War, but not the fighting. Instead: civilian faces young and old, jungle-mountain panoramas, soldiers idling or reading letters or posed next to seized weapons.

Returning home from his year in-country, James R. Thompson wasn’t anxious to get the images developed. He was finished with his duties as the official photographer for his battalion in the 101st Airborne Division, and had other priorities.

“When I got home in ‘71 I pretty much just threw all the stuff in a box with the medals and everything else and they just sat there,” said Thompson, a 67-year-old Minneapolis resident.

Four decades since coming home, he had moved four times and thought the pictures had been lost in the shuffle.

“Then one day I was looking for something else and of course, that’s when I found them,” Thompson explained.

The photos’ newest temporary home is Augsburg Park Library in Richfield, where they are exhibited through August.

Having been drafted, Thompson wasn’t itching for a firefight when he arrived in Vietnam in 1970. During his first six months in-country he was assigned to a recon unit, creeping around the jungle, locating the enemy so that larger forces could attack.

He saw little action during that time, since it was monsoon season and the enemy was mostly “hunkered down,” as he describes it. Then came the golden ticket out of the muck.

The official photographer for his battalion had returned home and Thompson, who was an art student back in Minnesota and stayed attached to his camera in Vietnam, seemed a natural successor when he inquired about the opportunity.

“I walked in there, I had a camera hanging on me,” Thompson recalled.

So for the last six months of his service, he was tasked with documenting the battalion’s activities. Chiefly, his colonel wanted photos for his scrapbook, Thompson remembers. Another duty was to photograph soldiers getting pinned with medals.

But Thompson was able to float around as well. He would tag along with medic teams on “goodwill” missions near his base in Phu Bai, in central Vietnam. The medics’ job was to treat ill children and distribute vaccinations.

Along with capturing the everyday life of the soldiers, these were the excursions that formed the hallmark of Thompson’s Vietnam collection.

“I don’t have a lot of blood and guts,” Thompson said.

Instead, he has photos of villagers’ stares and soldiers passing the time during quieter moments. This, Thompson notes, is what makes up most of wartime after all.

“As one guy told me – he said, ‘War is 95 percent boredom and 5 percent terror,’ and that’s what I was trying to show here, is all the things that go on that are not war, that are not conflict,” Thompson said.

Expanding exposure

It was a serendipitous sequence of events that led to the exposure of Thompson’s once-lost work. Around the same time he unboxed the photos he was in the middle of a career change.

Thompson spent 30 years freelancing out of the Twin Cities in the filmmaking business, shooting mostly commercials but also some major motion pictures as a first camera assistant, the person responsible for maintaining the equipment and also focusing the lens during shots.

But that work began to dry up after Sept. 11, 2001, he explains, and by 2008, he was out of the business. He then decided to turn an affliction from the war into an opportunity.

The Veterans Administration granted Thompson disability status due to exposure to “Agent Orange,” a defoliant the U.S. military used to root out the Viet Cong but which has since been found to cause health problems to those exposed.

The “Chapter 31” status Thompson gained from his exposure meant the government would pay for him to return to school. He was eight credits away from a master’s degree in filmmaking from the University of Minnesota but the window to finish that degree had lapsed, so Thompson enrolled in a two-year photography and digital imaging program at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, where he learned to restore a collection of forgotten negatives that badly needed some care.

“I think they were pretty banged up,” recalls Jack Mader, who chaired MCTC’s photography department at the time.

Several generations separated Thompson from most of his fellow students, but he found a kinship with Mader, who came from the same era.

“I was always glad to mentor him. I always had a bit of a soft spot for vets, especially Vietnam vets that got drafted,” said Mader, who is now semi-retired.

Working with Thompson, Mader added, “was another way for me to say ‘thank you’ without being overt about it.”

So with the images restored, Thompson displayed the work at his final portfolio show before graduating at MCTC.

Mader appreciates what he called the “day-to-day feel” of the photos.

“You get a chance to look at (the soldiers) as people rather than warriors,” he explained.

The photos work well in exhibition form, too, Mader believes.

“The photos hang so beautifully,” he said.

After Thompson’s studies at MCTC, the work gained exposure at the First Unitarian Society in downtown Minneapolis, where his friend, Herbie Sewell, chairs the church’s arts committee. Sewell and Thompson had gone to filmmaking school together, but had since lost touch. They had recently reconnected at a memorial tribute at the U of M for their professor, Alan Downs, when Sewell, who since studying film has made a career as a painter, saw Thompson’s collection.

“I realized he needed to have his first exhibit as soon as possible,” Sewell said.

As his first true show, Thompson had a six-week run at the First Unitarian Society’s gallery that consisted of his Vietnam work and more recent street-scene photos.

Emboldened, Thompson then brought his work back to the U of M last spring, for a show at the Regis Center for Art’s Quarter Gallery. That’s where the Richfield connection happened.

Richfield resident Phuoc Tran works part-time at Augsburg Park Library and full-time at the U of M’s Wilson Library. Tran, who immigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam in 1982, visited the exhibit and was impressed enough to leave an encouraging comment in the visitors’ log.

Thompson sent Tran an email to thank her for the kind words, and in return received an invitation to show his work at Augsburg Park Library.

“For me, it’s important for people to know,” Tran said.

Tran wants people to remember a conflict that she won’t forget. She was in her early 20s and living in Saigon during the city’s fall to the communists in 1975, and recalls the persecution that followed, when two of her brothers, officers for the former government, were imprisoned in a “re-education camp.”

In a country where veterans came home to jeers, Tran is instead thankful.

“They gave us freedom,” she said.

Tran is just the person Thompson was hoping to reach in exposing his work – “somebody from that community who would be interested in exhibiting this type of material,” he said.

There may be more demand for Thompson’s exhibitions with the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon coming in April 2015.

“I talk to a lot of people in my community,” Tran said, “and they want to see him.”

Thompson’s exhibit is on display through August at Augsburg Park Library, 7100 Nicollet Ave., Richfield. Following that, the library will display some of his more recent photos of street scenes.

Read the original story and see photographs from the exhibit here.

 

MCTC Open House, STEM Fair and Skills Rodeo April 8

Posted on: April 3rd, 2014 by insidemctc No Comments

Open House banner

You are invited to join us for three amazing events at MCTC on April 8! Activities start at 10 a.m. and wrap up at 7 p.m. There’s something for everyone at MCTC on this action-packed day!

  • Open House, 57 p.m., T Plaza and 2nd floor
  • STEM Fair, 10 a.m.7 p.m., T Plaza
  • Skills Rodeo, 57 p.m., T Skyway

Open House, 5–7 p.m., T Plaza and 2nd floor
Whether exploring what the College has to offer, choosing your major or finding clubs that spark your interest, the Open House is for you! Invite your friends and family, stay for the other exciting events and be sure to pre-register! More information and registration are available here.


STEM Fair, 10 a.m.–7 p.m., T Plaza
Celebrate Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs, clubs and activities! At the STEM Fair you can:

  • Light your way through a cave lined with prehistoric cave paintings from across the world
  • Explore the Exploradome and its two distinct programs: a tour across the universe and a trip through the heart
  • Meet MCTC Engineering students and learn about their projects with a high altitude balloon, helicopters, a flight simulator and a drone
  • See MCTC student research projects previously highlighted at the state Capitol
  • Explore Biotechnology and other science demonstrations, hands-on activities and a human evolution display
  • Attend a presentation by Princeton University Molecular Biology professor Dr. Bonnie Bassler about how bacteria talk to one another
  • Watch the work of flesh-eating beetles, learn about animal decomposition and familiarize yourself with the flora of Loring Park
  • Learn more about MCTC’s STEM programs and student clubs!

Skills Rodeo, 57 p.m., T Skyway
Students from five career and technical programs will compete against one another in a chance to demonstrate their skills and vie for $2,500 in scholarships!

  • Photography: PHDI (Photography and Digital Imaging) participants will be asked to photograph portraits in front of a bright window. Students will have to balance studio lights with background light in order to create a mixed-light portrait.
  • Sound Arts: Sound Arts students will compete in a 10-minute sound frequency identification accuracy test involving music, frequency bands and filtering.
  • Barbering: Two Barbering students will compete by demonstrating their skills on live models in barber chairs, creating specific and specialized haircuts based on Minnesota State Barber Licensing exams. They will also present the logos they created for their proposed barber or hair salon business plans.
  • Culinary Arts: Culinary Arts student chefs will compete by creating the same dish which will be judged by a panel. The student with the highest score wins the scholarship, and the audience will be able to judge for themselves and eat the work of the competitors!
  • WeldingWelding students will compete at stations in the T Building welding labs to create specific challenging and sculptural welding projects within a limited time frame. A live video feed of the competition will be streamed to the T Skyway.

DJ music will be provided by students in The Sound Society student club.

Please join us for any of these amazing events April 8!

It’s Showtime! MCTC Hosts Collage of Spring Shows, Events and Performances

Posted on: March 21st, 2014 by insidemctc No Comments

MCTC Spring ShowsFrom fashion and fine arts to welding, this spring MCTC students, faculty, staff and community will demonstrate their skills in a collage of shows, events and performances.

In celebration of MCTC’s Centennial year, each event is held in recognition of the long history MCTC and its predecessor colleges have in Minneapolis. With roots dating back to 1914 when founder Elizabeth Fish established the Vocational School for Girls, MCTC is proud of its thousands of students, employees, alumni and supporters. This spring, we celebrate how far we’ve come in the last 100 years. It’s showtime!

Events this spring include the tenth annual Sustainability Fair; our Open House, STEM Fair and Skills Rodeo; the Theater department’s spring play Top Girls; a health fair; student and faculty concerts and recitals; and, of course, our award-winning portfolio shows in Apparel, Graphic arts and Photography and Digital Imaging. A comprehensive calendar of events with links for more information can be found here.

Images from Wing Young Huie’s Chalkboard Project

Posted on: April 6th, 2011 by insidemctc No Comments

Images from the Chalkboard Project by Wing Young Huie are now on display in the windows of MCTC’s Science Building. They will be up until Friday, April 8.

Starting in mid-April, about 250 smaller images will be on display in the Skyway from the parking lot to the T Building.

See what students at MCTC are saying about themselves!

Wing Young Huie: Chalkboard Project

Posted on: March 1st, 2011 by insidemctc 3 Comments

Learn about the Chalkboard Project from photographer Wing Young Huie and be a part of the project with students and staff at MCTC. Bring a camera.

Sponsored by the MCTC Fine Arts Department as a part of the Spring Arts Festival

March 1, 2, 7, 8, 9; 10:30 a.m. – noon
Skyway by Josephine’s Cafe, MCTC

Slide Show Presentation: How do photographs form us?
The photographs of internationally known artist Wing Young Huie have been exhibited in major museums and in epic public installations. His dynamic slide show presentation is an overview of his many photographic projects that explores the dizzying socioeconomic and cultural realities of American society.

His two most well known works are Lake Street USA (2000) and The University Avenue Project (2010), both of which transformed six miles of two major Twin Cities thoroughfares into epic photo galleries, reflecting the everyday lives of thousands of its citizens in the midst of some of the most diverse concentrations of international immigrants in the country.

Wing fosters dialogues by showing photographs from his many projects that are open to cultural interpretations, inviting participants to offer their own points of views and to consider not only how their perceptions may differ from those around them, but also how our perceptions are formed by the overwhelming media and marketing photographs we consume on a daily basis.

Chalkboard Workshop: Chalk Talk
In workshops participants engage in a “Chalk Talk” with a process that Wing used in his most recent work, The University Avenue Project, where he photographed hundreds of people in various circumstances holding chalkboards on which revealing statements are hand-written. Wing elicited responses by asking a series of questions that are not easily answered and then chose only one of the answers from each person, who then wrote their answer on a chalkboard. How would you answer these questions?

What are you? How do you think others see you? What don’t they see? What advice would you give to a stranger? What is your favorite word? Describe an incident that changed you. How have you been affected by race?

Workshop participants will pair with someone in the room they are unfamiliar with, ask each other these questions, choose each other’s answer, and write their answer down on black construction paper with white chalk. Participants then photograph their partner with their chalkboard.