After the fall 2013 semester, MSUM will say goodbye to an integral professor from the mass communications department, Wayne Gudmundson. Gudmundson, an MSUM alumnus responsible for bringing New Rivers Press and the Lincoln, England exchange program to MSUM, as well as publishing 15 books through the “Prairie Documents Photographic Book Series,” has been a professor at the college for 25 years.
From the Navy to teaching
While in the Navy stationed in Guam, Gudmundson took up photography as a hobby. Upon returning to the states, he enrolled at MSUM and spent the winter in Aspen at a photography class.
After graduating MSUM in 1974 with a BA in mass communications and a BS in education, Gudmundson student taught at a high school in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was there that he met his wife, Jane, who was teaching at an elementary school in Copenhagen at the same time.
The two were married in England and Gudmundson took a summer teaching job at MSUM. He later took a job for the Plains Art Museum, which led to an artist in residency position and eventually Gudmundson became the director of visual arts for the Fargo school system.
He later decided he needed a change in his life, which led him to continue his schooling to receive a MS in educational administration from the Tri-College University and a MFA in photography from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, so he would be qualified to teach at a university level.
A career as a professor
For Gudmundson, “Teaching has always been the most important thing… there’s nothing like seeing the lights go on for someone.”
Dave Arntson, a current adjunct professor in the mass communications department and an MSUM alumnus who had Gudmundson as a professor, said he’s taken note from how Wayne interacts with his students. “You realize that there are students that you’re leaving a lasting impression on and you’re giving them the skills they need to function out there in the world.”
Jessica Fleming, mass communications senior with an emphasis in photojournalism, has taken three classes from Gudmundson and said: “Wayne will be a seriously missed pillar of the mass communication photojournalism program… he looks at every photo you take, so he can see how your mind works and get a feel on how you see things.”
Gudmundson hasn’t only brought his teaching to MSUM, but will also leave behind a couple other legacies. He helped bring New Rivers Press to campus with Al Davis, MSUM English professor.. He suggested starting a literary publishing house and became the director of New Rivers Press with Davis being the senior editor.
Gudmundson also started the exchange program with the University of Lincoln,England, about 12 years ago. He received the offer to have a class waived if he looked into the possibility of an exchange program with another school. He made several trips to England to set up the program and along with Nigel Morris, a senior lecturer at Lincoln, drafted the statement of agreement between the two universities. He oversaw the program up until last year.
Gudmundson said, while some people don’t like the academic notion of “publish or perish,” he thrived in that environment and was able to do what he loved. “Left to my own, that’s what I would do is projects,” he said. “Teaching has freed me from having to make photographs that sell, I don’t have to live by my sales. I can do exactly what I want.”
Gudmundson has published nine books, was the editor for 15 student-published books through the “Prairie Documents Photographic Book Series,” has work in 16 permanent collections and more than 36 exhibits and was involved with four public television documentaries.
“There’s always a number of projects going on at the same time… it’s a real privileged environment and for me it’s been a good gig,” he said.
Currently he is working on two to three book projects, one to two television efforts, researching for an upcoming trip to the Sonoran desert, working on a project on the White Earth Reservation and also one on the role of post offices in rural North Dakota. He also is preparing for a show at the Plains Art Museum in May 2014 where he will exhibit his work documenting sunrises from summer solstice to winter solstice from a specific point at his lake cabin in Minnesota.
Forever a student
While most know Gudmundson as a photographer or professor, he could also be considered a student for life.
“I always tell people you gotta know what’s in front of the camera,” he said. “The research is a very important thing for me… you can’t tell someone something interesting if you know nothing about it.”
Gudmundson’s research has led him to collaborating with individuals in creating a few books. Both “Minnesota Gothic” and “Affinities” were collaborations of Gudmundson’s photographs and the poems of Mark Vinz, an English professor at MSUM during that time.
When looking for inspiration for a new project, Gudmundson says it usually falls together quite nicely. “One project will kind of point me in the direction of another project,” he said. When working on his first book on the North Dakota oil boom in 1981, which he considered a social phenomenon, he and his wife were approached to photograph German-Russian grave markers in North Dakota, which he considered folk art.
While working on those two projects, “I discovered that I really liked the North Dakota landscape and photographing it with the large format camera,” he said.
Gudmundson considers himself a cultural landscape photographer. “When I look at the land, it’s not just for scenery or beauty,” he said. “It’s the history, it’s the culture, all layered together there on the land.”
“I will continue to teach and make photographs and golf,” Gudmundson said. “And I love building stuff.”
Eventide nursing home just bought a collection of photographs for their south Moorhead facility that was hung this last Sunday. Gudmundson’s late mother spent some time at the facility, his father still spends time there and it was close to where he grew up.
His suggestion for aspiring photographers stresses the importance of knowing how to write. “Writing is so important because it forces you to finish the sentence, the paragraph, the story,” he said, “helping you to think more clearly.
“Newspapers are dying, if you think you’re going to get a job for a newspaper or ‘National Geographic,’ I think you’re deluded,” he said. “But, there’s a lot of places where you can get jobs where you can use some of your writing and visual skills.”
A retirement party will be held to celebrate Gudmundson’s career and contributions to MSUM on Nov. 18 from 1:30 to 3 p.m. in the mass communications lounge and is open to all students, faculty and staff.
BY ALISON SMITH