Somsen Hall features new photography exhibit


The new photography in Somsen Hall catches the eye of Luke Peacock. TAYLOR NYMAN
The new photography in Somsen Hall catches the eye of Luke Peacock.

Samantha Stetzer/Winonan

The Minnesota and Wisconsin wilderness has been tamed and is displayed in 38 photographs and one interpretive poster in Somsen Hall. The man who did the taming, Craig Blacklock, did so with his camera.

“The slower you go, the better your images will be,” Blacklock said. “The cumbersome and slow process of using the large camera forced me to take more time with each composition, giving me time to digest what story I really wanted to say.”

Blacklock is an esteemed nature photographer who has printed 17 books featuring his unique take on nature, with countless landscapes and even nudity. Though he now uses more digital techniques, he still takes it slow.

A dedication will be held on Friday, Nov. 22, at the Harriet Johnson Auditorium in Somsen Hall beginning at 6 p.m. for mingling about to view the pictures. The actual reception will begin at 7 p.m., featuring Blacklock, who will talk about the gallery itself. Afterward, Blacklock will be available for a book signing.

It has taken a year and a half to get Blacklock’s photos to Winona State University. Retired Winona State sociology professor Erv Bublitz tipped off mass communication professor Tom Grier, the curator of the exhibit, about the photographs.

Bublitz has had a considerable amount of influence on the arts here on campus. Numerous statues, photo galleries and art exhibits, including the one in the library, have all been brought here thanks to Bublitz.

“For some reason, he likes me,” Grier said. “And he knows that I am generally willing to put in the work to get art here.”

A few years ago, Bublitz wanted to get some pictures up onto the bare walls of Somsen, and he contacted Grier to see if he could help him get some of National Geographic photographer Jim Brandenburg’s photographs onto the walls.

After three years, Brandenburg’s photos were displayed onto one wall in Somsen, but for Bublitz, that still was not enough.

So, he once again contacted Grier:

“He called me and said ‘I want to do another collection of photos because all of these walls are so bare and boring; I want to do Craig Blacklock.’”

Reluctantly, Grier agreed.

“If I said no, it would not happen. And I want the art here,” Grier said.

There was some discussion of some of the content of some of the photos, which included nudity.

“Erv said to me, ‘I don’t know art… so Grier you and Craig decide,” Grier said about the decision process involved in the collection. “I didn’t have a problem with it [the nudes]. I know that is what Craig is very well known for.”

The nudes, according to Grier, were not an issue.

“We’re all adults,” he said. “We can handle that.”

Blacklock said without the nudes, a large part of the meaning behind the photos would be lost.

“I use the figure as a way to create a deeper connection between the viewer and the landscape than can be accomplished through a photograph without a human in it,” Blacklock said.

For Blacklock, the art was years in the making, taking extreme patience and dedication.

“This exhibition spans several projects done over decades,” Blacklock said. “Each project was somewhat distinct in what inspired it, and what I was aiming to accomplish through the images.”

But beyond the photographs and the nature that inspires them, Blacklock said, is a story of a kid and his father, bound together by their love of capturing their world around them.

“My father was also a landscape photographer. I grew up in a wild setting, and traveled with my dad to wilderness areas all over the country,” Blacklock said. “I refer to the natural elements, particularly the ones that make up Lake Superior, as the words that make up my native language.”

Many of the pieces include waterways, large rock formations, wildlife and even two nudes.

Grier is hoping that the photographs will not only impact  his students, but also those just passing by. He hopes that maybe they will stop and “at the very least [get] an uplift in their day.”

“You know, I think art makes us feel better… I think it is just one part of the greater art collection,” Grier said. “They can get out of it that Winona State has a great appreciation for beauty and art. And that we have a pretty good collection of American folk art.”

Blacklock said reaching students by displaying his artwork is a huge privilege to him.

“I feel an obligation to pay back what I learned from those who came before me, by sharing what I can with those who will follow me.”


Contact Samantha at [email protected]