WORTHINGTON - Over the last six weeks, photographer and filmmaker Nik Nerburn has spent most of his time with the residents of Grand Terrace Apartments.
Together, they have built up a large collection of photos, which will be on display at the apartment complex’s first youth photography show from 2 to 3 p.m. Saturday. The photo exhibit will remain hung up as a permanent collection of youth-made photography.
Nerburn - a Bemidji native who has spent the last few years traveling around the country to create films and photo galleries - connected with the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership (SWMHP) to begin an art engagement project with the residents in Grand Terrace.
His after-school photo league quickly became a popular daily event, where young residents learned how to shoot pictures on Fujifilm Instax instant cameras.
“My dream has always been to get cameras in the hands of people I work with,” Nerburn said. “The kids caught on really quickly to the cameras … now they go out and they don’t shoot 10 or 20 photos. They think, they move around, they watch and then they take one.”
The diverse group of young residents, many of whom have family members working at JBS, asked Nerburn to start an “art factory,” where he is the boss and the kids are the employees.
In wanting to provide a service to the residents, Nerburn set up a free family portrait studio in the community room. This summer, Nerburn will release a photobook that will document his experience and provide a portrait of the people that live in Grand Terrace. The book will be given to each of the residents and will be available at both Nobles County libraries.
Nerburn was a source of entertainment for young residents, who were cooped up thanks to the extended winter. Nerburn said he was struck by how little there was for kids to do in town, especially when it was cold, but also said he was impressed by the quality of the children he interacted with.
“I was really touched by their sincerity and their seriousness, and the beautiful way that they look at the world,” Nerburn said. “It’s easy to say that, but when you give kids cameras, you’re really reminded of the power of their vision and how easy it is for us adults to sort of lose that.”
Seven languages are spoken at the apartment complex, which houses people of all colors and backgrounds - from first-generation immigrants to self-described rednecks. One of Nerburn’s major takeaways was just how little kids cared about where their peers came from.
“For all of the fractured problems in Worthington, all of the challenges of change and demographic shift at the school, for all of the problems that adults have created, the kids are going to be all right,” he said.