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Not to be overlooked: David Husom exhibits panoramic aerial views

Photographer David Husom used a UAV – drone – to capture panoramic images of the Upper Mississippi River Valley. An exhibition of that work, including this photo of Wacouta, opens Oct. 5 at Tower View. Ruth Nerhaugen / Contributor

HAGER CITY — David Husom wanted to do something big to celebrate 50 years of taking pictures. But being David Husom, he didn't want to do it with a backward-looking retrospective.

Instead, the local photographer used new technology to capture fresh perspectives of the river valley he has come to know and love.

The result is the Upper Mississippi River Project, a photographic exhibition that will be on display Oct. 5 to Nov. 21 at the Anderson Center in Red Wing.

A public reception will run from 7-9 p.m. Oct. 5 at Tower View. Husom will speak briefly at 7:30 p.m. about the project, including his use of a UAV — unmanned aerial vehicle, AKA drone — to take 360-degree panoramic photographs.

The Hager City man's unique presentation of the photographs matches the tenor of the images.

"I'm trying to push the envelope of what an art show can be," Husom explained. At the same time, "I want it to be fun," complete with surprises.

The large-scale photos — the biggest one is 4 feet by 20 feet ‑ are everywhere in the main gallery and its adjacent hallway, from the floor to the ceiling and inbetween.

His wife, artist Ann-Marie Rose, helped Husom with his desire to do "brand new things" for the 50-year anniversary of his first photography class.

"She gave me a drone for Christmas" a few years ago, he said. He mounted a Go-Pro camera on it and took it out exploring.

"It flew away," Husom said. "I lost it for three months. In the spring a farmer found it in his field and called me."

Husom cleaned it up and used it again, but all it did was take pictures. He had no real control over it, and could not see what the camera was shooting.

"A new generation came out with a built-in camera," he said. It had better GPS and satellite reception, enabling him to communicate with the drone and know where it was. The camera was similar to what is found on an iPhone.

When his new UAV arrived in January 2017, Husom took it to the fields behind the Anderson Center to practice.

An open field is necessary, he said. "You cannot legally fly a drone within five miles of the Red Wing Airport unless you have a FAA drone license" — a remote pilot's license he has since acquired — because it can disrupt flights.

Husom wanted to photograph the Mississippi River. "I've lived by it pretty much my whole life," he said. "I photograph the river a lot, especially since we moved here 18 years ago."

His eye is drawn to the Driftless region, from Hastings to Winona, with train tracks and highways on both the Minnesota and Wisconsin sides.

He likes the tiny Wisconsin villages nestled in the bluffs, and the way all the elements are squeezed into the landscape. On the Minnesota side north of Winona, he found more small towns and places that were wiped out when the highway was built, and other terrain to explore.

Often overlooked shapes and facets of the topography, including archeological sites, show up in some photos.

The panorama photographs "bend" the landscape to capture all 360 degrees. Husom accomplished this by putting a series of drone photos together using Photoshop. He also has some "tiny planet" pictures that are compressed circles.

All the images in the exhibition were taken since January 2017. Scenes depict all seasons and all hours of the day, from 7:30 a.m. until 8 p.m. Most of the photos in the display required multiple visits to capture the desired lighting, angle and other factors.

Husom begins by selecting an area, then launching the drone and using an iPad Mini to see what the camera sees. As he spins the drone, he uses the iPad to record an image on the drone camera.

The FAA restricts drone height to 400 feet above ground, Husom said. His lowest images were shot from about 200 feet over Lake City; the highest was 400 feet above a 300-foot tall bluff.

It was particularly appealing to him that the resulting photos, like paintings, captured more than a single viewpoint or perspective.

Instead, Husom said, "This reads like a Japanese or Chinese scroll."

The exhibition will have more than 30 images, including about two dozen framed, hanging pictures that are 80 inches wide and 16 inches high.

About a dozen of the larger ones will have QR codes. By clicking on them, people will be able to see videos of scenes including the interstate bridge under construction and YMCA Camp Pepin. There also will be a map showing all the locations represented by panoramic scenes.

All the works are for sale; only 10 fine art prints will be made of each larger image. Husom also will have 50 limited edition posters, 7 inches by 35 inches, for sale.

Husom is a widely recognized photographer whose work has been shown in prestigious museums from the Getty in Los Angeles to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. His work has been featured by major auction houses including Bonhams and Christie's.

More information can be found online at www.andersoncenter.org. People can view the exhibit at no charge from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at Tower View.

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