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Seeing Red Wing through new eyes

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Armed with just cameras and iPads, nine University of Minnesota students were dropped off in the middle of Red Wing last week. Their mission: document Red Wing as it is.

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"We weren't here to flatter it or shoot it," instructor Mike Zerby. "We're revealing Red Wing to Red Wingers."

The students are enrolled in the U of M's School of Journalism and Mass Communications' course "Portrait of Red Wing: An Odyssey in Photo Journalism."

The goal of the course is to teach the students about photography, but also to teach them how to find and capture stories, Zerby and co-instructor David Husom said.

The class, taking place during the U of M's May term, began May 28. Students spent the first three days in their Minneapolis classroom researching Red Wing and the surrounding area, its history and its people. They actually arrived in town May 31.

"We told them to treat this as if you were in an exotic foreign town," said Zerby.

This is the first year that Husom, who lives Hager City,and Zerby have taught the course. They said they chose Red Wing for a few reasons.

"It's a river town, it's within 100 miles of Minneapolis, it's under 20,000 people and it's lovely," Zerby said.

For the last week, the students have been "living" in some of the town's bed-and-breakfast inns. The class schedule has been very casual. Students were given free-range to wander Red Wing, explore, talk to residents and take photos.

"The students were very ambitious," Zerby said.

Their photos document everything ranging from important life events -- like the Cannon Falls High School graduation -- to the mundane -- a man getting a haircut at a downtown barber shop.

Patty Grover spent a few hours one morning with two men fishing at one of the city's parks. Her classmate Jason Ballesteros headed to the riverbank one day at 3 a.m. to capture the reflecting lights.

Other students attended picnics, concerts and choir practices. They took scenic photos from the top of Memorial Bluff, got a ride in an airplane to shoot the city from above and captured kids playing, couples talking and families posing on their front porch.

The students weren't allowed to set up any interviews or photo sessions before they arrived in town, Zerby and Husom said. For Grover, a self-described introvert, just walking up to people and talking to them was challenging, she said.

"Getting over the fear of getting out there, finding a story," she said of what she found most difficult.

"Including a story within the photo has been hard for me," student Caitlyn Nelson added.

But by the end of this week, Husom and Zerby both agreed that the students' photojournalism skills -- taking compelling photos and capturing the story behind them -- have advanced.

"They learned about photography, thinking on their feet," Husom said.

"Their seeing has improved greatly," Zerby added.

By the end of the class, students had to turn in two in-depth photo stories and three free-standing photos, Zerby said.

The students' work was showcased in a gala event at the Anderson Center barn Friday evening. The class will spend the coming week editing and cropping their photos and compiling their work into a magazine and an e-book.

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