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Minnesota couple sells home, hits the road to capture humans' stories

Minnesota photographer sells home, hits the road to capture stories
Minnesota photographer sells home, hits the road to capture stories 03:51

MINNEAPOLIS -- Many of us have felt the heaviness of the past few years. from a global pandemic to a murder in Minneapolis that led to calls for justice across the world.

It was enough for one Minnesota couple to take action the only way they knew how. They sold their home and hit the road. 

John Noltner is Minnesota-based, but he's roamed the world, snapping images for national magazines. He decided to take a break from his career to better understand his country.

"This is a project I started in Minnesota. It eventually led us on a road trip across the United States gathering stories," he said.

He and his wife went in pursuit of those stories, starting in George Floyd Square, where Minnesotans poured out their perspectives and their pain.

"I simply asked people in the community, 'What do you want to say?' And we took their portrait and took their word, and it was an exercise in listening," he said.

They headed south to Charleston, to the Mother Emmanuel Church, a place where a young white supremacist killed nine church members enjoying a Bible study. A surviving church member invited Noltner inside the sanctuary.

"I asked him, 'How is it that a man who looks like you can come to trust a man who looks like me after that trust has been violated in a horrific way?' He said, 'Well that's easy, John, because this is not our house, this is the Lord's house. And we are here to trust and love and serve everybody who walks through that door,'" Noltner said. "He said, 'We can't let the bad acts of someone change who we are.' And I said to myself, that response was filled with so much grace."

John Noltner

The more they listened, the more they realized they needed to hear.

"We went to the border to talk to people about immigration. We went to Mississippi to talk to people about moving Confederate monuments. We went to the Colorado River watershed to talk about drought and environmental issues," Noltner said. "We have been in Minnesota and Wisconsin talking about Indigenous sovereignty and environmental concerns. We've been on skid row in L.A. and up the west coast talking about housing security. We have been working with veterans and PTSD on suicide prevention up in Washington."

They kept listening, learning, living by van but better understanding life.

"We literally spent 800 days on the road. We drove 93,000 miles across the country," Noltner said.

John Noltner

Among their 140 interviews they noted one poignant theme: "If we can get get comfortable having uncomfortable conversations, I think it offers us the opportunity to bridge some of those divides and build some of those connections."

The Noltners are going to have an event to explain their travels and share more stories and photos. It will be held Tuesday, Feb. 7 at Squirrel Haus Arts in Minneapolis.

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