Window on Windom

WINDOM — Cameroon, Africa … Windom neighborhood in Minneapolis. What’s the big difference? When it comes to friendships and family, not a whole lot.

Dawn Vogel, a photographer who lives in Windom, has traveled all over the world, capturing the everyday nuances of regular people. She got into photography in high school during the 1980s and minored in studio arts photography at the University of Minnesota. From 1994–2005, Vogel lived in Cameroon as a Peace Corps volunteer. She brought her camera and tons of film and spent time snapping residents and the activities in their lives.

“That’s pretty much what really kick-started my passion for photographing people,” Vogel recalls.

After her stay in Africa, the travel bug had officially sunk its stinger into Vogel. She packed her bags, grabbed her camera and wound up in Mexico, France, Guatemala, Hong Kong, England and Thailand. Occasionally, she traveled with friends, but often Vogel visited places where she already had a personal connection.

In 2003, Vogel got a job as a photographer for the Center for Cross-cultural Health in Willmar, Minn. The nonprofit organization had received a grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield to conduct a communitywide cultural competency initiative. Over the course of the three-year project, Vogel found herself shifting from being a travel photographer to a photographer focused on cultural change.

As the Willmar mission came to a close, Vogel bought a house in Windom and realized that her new neighborhood would be the perfect subject for an exhibit on diversity. She began “One Upon a Time Windom,” a project that will document the stories of community members on film and bring them together in an exhibition.

“I am inspired by the diverse range of people that make up this community,” Vogel wrote in an e-mail about the project. One of her goals is to focus on the positive events and activities in the neighborhood, rather than on crime or prejudice because, she explains, “I’m looking to create a story of beauty, inspiration and hope about an ‘everyday’ neighborhood in Minneapolis.”

Vogel has met many of her neighbors since she announced the start of project earlier this summer. She’s photographed a couple from China, elderly residents, single young women and an African American family, among others. One Latino family even invited her to attend their daughter’s Quinceañera celebration. “I just feel honored that people are trusting me,” she says. “Those are the moments that are really profound.”

Not only is Vogel interested in documenting diversity and cultural change, but she also recognizes photography as living history.

“2007 in a Minneapolis neighborhood — what does that look like?” Vogel asks. “In 50 years, we’ll look back at the photographs I’m taking and you’re going to go, ‘Wow, look at that. So that’s what the neighborhood looked like.’”

Vogel is still looking for more participants and funders for “Once Upon a Time Windom.” Families who participate in the project will receive five 4-by-6 prints of select photos from their shoot and the opportunity to purchase additional images. Visit her website, for more information.

Through Sept. 11, art fans are invited to attend “Footsteps Around the World,” an exhibition at The Family Village, 4000 Winnetka Ave. N., Suite 300, in New Hope.

Vogel hopes to work on the Windom project for the next year or two, hold an exhibition and eventually turn the collection into a book. “Photography is just a really powerful means to bring alive the story or experience,” she says. “I’m going to tell the story right here.”