MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The phone was ringing nonstop Monday morning for an artist in Minneapolis because friends were calling to congratulate the photographer.

Wing Young Huie is this year’s McKnight Distinguished Artist.

Huie is the first photographer to get the honor in its 21-year history. The award recognizes a Minnesota-based artist’s contribution to the state’s culture.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield explains how photography found its way into Huie’s life.

Huie, who was born and raised in Duluth, first picked up a camera while studying journalism at the University of a Minnesota.

That eventually led him to pursue street photography, capturing everyday life in the Twin Cities.

“I am continually confronted about my assumptions of other people,” Huie said.

In the mid-90s, Huie’s first big project explored St. Paul’s multicultural Frogtown neighborhood. Twenty years later, he captured life along University Avenue.

He says the best compliment he has received was from sixth grader.

“He said, ‘I really like your pictures.’ I said, ‘Great, what do you like about them?’ He said, ‘They’re real.’ And I said, ‘Don’t you ever see photographs that are real?’ And he goes, ‘No.’” Huie said.

The award’s $50,000 cash gift will help the Minnesota photographer continue to pick up his camera.

“There are a lot of projects I want to do, and this will give me the freedom to just do them,” Huie said.

Huie’s new project is called “Chinese-ness.”

For part of it, he traveled to China to photograph Chinese men whose life he could have had if his parents didn’t move to Minnesota.

That book will be released by the Minnesota Historical Society Press in October.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield

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