McKnight in shining armor

The McKnight Foundation funds the work of four local photographers

Matt Graham

The farmhouse rests on a barren, snow-covered field, surrounded by trees, sitting under a big, swirling gray-blue sky.

“Road to Rochester” looks like some bleak, yet soothing, watercolor re-creation of rural Minnesota winters. Amazingly, Natasha D’Schommer’s picture is no painting at all, but one of the works currently featured in “New Photography: McKnight Fellows 2005/2006,” on display at the University’s Katherine E. Nash Gallery.

The exhibit showcases four photographers – D’Schommer, Richard Copley, Todd Deutsch and Meg Ojala – who each was awarded $25,000 last year by the University/McKnight Foundation Artists Fellowship for Photographers Program to fund their work for a year. They were selected by three out-of-state panelists from a group of more than 110 applicants.

D’Schommer’s inkjet prints provide a surreal look at what otherwise would be common roadside scenes for any native Midwesterner.

Her pictures feature everyday rural scenes of rolling hills decked with trees and small family farms. But the common feature that dominates all of her photos is massive, cloud-spotted skies, which take up more than two thirds of most pictures. Closeups of dish towels that seem likely to have come from the kitchens of the featured farms are interspersed between the sprawling landscape photos.

Meg Ojala’s shots take a different approach to documenting the Minnesota outdoors. Her closeups of native shrubbery were captured outside her home in Dundas. She uses shallow depth-of-field focus to make some parts of the photos blurry while others stand out in high fidelity.

“It does make the space ambiguous,” Ojala said. “The backgrounds could be water or they could be sky.”

Although the overall effect is disorienting, there is a documentary feeling to pictures with such titles as “Prairie Snow in March #2” and “Twining, Late April,” which showcase the course of Minnesota’s fickle seasons.

Todd Deutsche, a photography professor at the College of St. Catherine, chose video game culture as the subject for his pictures. The high-color photos feature a bevy of young men at gaming parties absorbed in “Halo” tournaments.

Deutsch said he decided to document this culture as a way to better understand his own sons.

Many of the pictures focus on the faces of the game players, which seem both intense and narcotized at the same time.

“Their facial expressions really struck me as interesting,” Deutsche said. “They’re trapped in these adrenaline-rich worlds, but when you look at their bodies, they’re really kind of still.”

But maybe the most striking photographs in the exhibit are Richard Copley’s black and white shots of New York’s streets. The angular lines of city architecture and the disheveled faces of unknowing photo subjects create crowded, but starkly beautiful, works of honesty.

Although the complex symmetries must have been planned, Copley said his process is a more spontaneous, intuitive thing.

“I wanna do stuff where I have to think fast,” he said.

The former city of Minneapolis truck driver has no formal training, but said he has been “walking and stalking” the streets and taking pictures for thirty years. Since his retirement eight years ago, he said he often goes out from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., always trying to get that next picture.

“I’m never satisfied,” he said. “It’s like an eternal quest for something, but I don’t know what it is.”