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Poems, images reflect 'This Place Called Home'

Chap Achen (left) and Robert Hedin combined photographs and poems in the limited-edition “This Place Called Home,” which will make its debut Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017, at the Anderson Center winter art fair. Ruth Nerhaugen / Contributor

Photographer Chappy Achen and poet Robert Hedin have been capturing images of Red Wing, each using his own personal lens, for four decades.

After years of saying "We ought to ...," they have finally combined their visions in a limited-edition book.

"This Place Called Home: Red Wing and the Upper Mississippi Valley" makes its debut at the annual Holiday Celebration of the Arts at the Anderson Center. That events runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9.

Neither poet nor photographer created new works specifically for the book, but it contains new poems never before published and new photographs people have not seen before, along with familiar words and images.

The fact that Hedin's words and Achen's photos often depict the same scenes and the same feelings is a tribute to the fact that both have an abiding love for this community and the river region.

"Over the years, off and on, I have been writing about various things in Red Wing," Hedin said — places, stories, remembrances. "I've admired (Achen's) work for decades. ...

"When Chappy invited me to collaborate," Hedin realized that his poems often matched up with Achen's images, such as Rattlesnake Bluff, the bottomlands, trains, winter scenes.

Beyond that, Hedin added, "The poems and photos intersect in sensibility — and I think express something of the spirit of this place."

From the start, Achen said, he knew the poems and photos would not specifically relate to each other. Rather, they "are about this area where we both have lived so long. We share that enjoyment of the Upper Midwest, the river, snow in particular and Red Wing itself. ...

"It's such a part of our lives here, (the river valley) plays a central role in all we do."

Doing a book together, Achen concluded, "was an opportunity for us to share our point of view on where we live."

Coincidentally, both began depicting the area about 40 years ago.

The book is significant to him, Achen said, because it covers a wide span of his years in Red Wing. "I have images in the book that were shot the old-fashioned way on film," as far back as 1977-78, he said, in addition to contemporary digital work.

"My emphasis has always been the black and white images," partly because in the early years it was more difficult to print color in his home darkroom. "I still prefer to work in black and white," Achen said, and those are the images he chose for the book.

The book's cover, for example, is a familiar depiction of Levee Park and the historic depot in winter.

Some of the older images, he pointed out, capture what the city and the river looked like years ago. Boathouse Village had gin poles back then, he noted, and Levee Park was filled with elm trees before disease struck. Like the elms, the old Beech-Nut barn is gone.

Achen can recall the moment he took many of the pictures. "Timing is critical," he said — before the fog lifts or the lightning storm ends.

People are not prominent in these images. "I love to photograph people," Achen said, but he considers himself primarily a landscape photographer. "This piece represents my approach to photography over the last 40 years more than anything I've done."

Hedin played a leading role in melding photos and poetry. According to Achen, "His poems talk about the feelings" as well as the images.

For example, he cited Hedin's poem "Minus 20," which is matched with a winter scene of "The Little River."

"(The poem) reminds me of what that day was like — bone-chilling cold," Achen said.

"It starts and concludes in winter," Hedin noted. "It would be virtually impossible for an artist to live in Red Wing and not be captivated by the winters here. ...

"The images are stunning and distinctive," he said, adding, "I think this book is a perfect gift for those who love Red Wing and the Upper Mississippi and those who moved away and wish to be reminded of their home ground."

Only 100 copies of "This Place Called Home" were printed. The softcover volume will sell for $35.

Hedin and Achen will autograph copies during Saturday's celebration at the Anderson Center, where Hedin is acting director. In addition, Hedin will read from the new book and his recent "At the Great Door of Morning" at 2:30 p.m. in the historic Tower View residence; Minnesota Poet Laureate Joyce Sutphen also will be reading her work.

Achen and Hedin also will sign books from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 16 at the Red Wing Arts' Depot Gallery.

For more information, contact the Anderson Center at 651-388-2009.

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