On the afternoon of March 31, the Chinese Heritage Foundation’s Sunday Tea Series presented photographer Wing Young Huie in a talk on his career and his new book, Chinese-ness, The Meaning of Identity and the Nature of Belonging. Wing had invited us to meet at his studio, the Third Place Gallery, located in the heart of south Minneapolis. Fifty of us were seated in a semi-circle around Wing, bathed with natural light from the studio’s store front windows and surrounded by Wing’s large photographs on two long brick walls.
Wing began his presentation by talking about his father, who first came to this country from TaiShan in Guangdong Province in China when he was a very young. He worked very hard, saved his money, returned to TaiShan to marry and came back to work hard again. It was only after many such cycles before he was able to finally bring his wife and children over here. Wing was the only one of his six children who was born in this country.
Over the course of his absorbing presentation Wing took us through the major phases of his photographic journey as well as that of his search for his own identity. He showed us numerous examples of being a street photographer, asking his subjects, all strangers to him and often to each other, to write their thoughts on a chalk board (thus his Chalk Talks). Thus was born his Lake Street and University Avenue Projects. He showed us a particularly poignant example, that of a white mother and her African American adopted daughter. After having photographed them when the daughter was a baby, he found them again on the daughter’s wedding day many years later. The juxtaposition of these then and now photographs shows overwhelming emotions that only an artist who has established a close relationship with his subjects can reveal.
For his new book, Chineseness, Wing added a new concept: what if? In the I am You chapter Wing shows photographs of different people he had encountered in China, and then himself in their clothes. A special dimension has been added to the ambiguity of identity, a subject of later chapters in the book. Another topic that Wing explores in his book is Paper Sons and Daughters. Continuing the project that he began at the History Theatre’s premiere production of The Paper Dreams of Harry Chin, Wing has given prominence to this still frequently taboo and painful topic. The descendants of Paper Sons and Daughters no longer need to hide.
The Chinese Heritage Foundation is delighted to have been an underwriter of the printing of Wing’s new book and is thrilled that Wing has just won a Minnesota Book Award in the Memoir and Creative Nonfiction category. Many Congratulations, Wing!