Farmington man is telling the stories of the Iron RangeLaunching a career as a professional photographer is uncertain business, but Brandon Lepasti has at least one early sign he is headed in the right direction.
By: Nathan Hansen, The Farmington Independent
Launching a career as a professional photographer is uncertain business, but Brandon Lepasti has at least one early sign he is headed in the right direction.
The Farmington resident learned last week he had received a $7,500 grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. He will use the money to continue work on a project photographing and interviewing Iron Range residents.
That kind of award would be a big deal for anyone. Lepasti said one of his instructors at the Arts Institute of Minnesota applied five or six times before receiving her first grant. For Lepasti, who graduated from the Arts Institute last year and is currently unemployed, it’s a huge confidence boost.
“I honestly don’t know how I did it,” Lepasti said. “I’m extremely grateful they saw potential in it.”
Lepasti came to photography relatively recently. He was a sponsored snowboarder in 2007 and 2008. He did plenty of work with filmmakers and photographers, but he was usually on the far side of the lens, performing while they captured his moves on the slope. It was pressure from parents to find a more stable job and the knowledge he didn’t want to spend years traveling to competitions and sleeping on couches that led Lepasti to look for a different profession. He enrolled in the Arts Institute thinking he would become a snowboard photographer, but he discovered quickly that he much preferred portrait photography. He liked talking to people, learning their stories and photographing them in ways that captured their personalities.
Taking pictures seemed to come naturally for Lepasti, who said he’s always had a creative eye.
The Iron Range project that won Lepasti his grant started as a class assignment. Students had been instructed to think about what he wanted to do after graduation, what they wanted their portfolio to look like. So, he turned to his grandparents.
Lepasti’s grandfather was a Seabee in the 1960s. His grandmother grew up in Latvia and escaped during World War II. They live a simple life in Little Swan Township, near Hibbing. Lepasti, who visited his grandparents often growing up, was drawn to a modest life he saw as a contrast to modern materialism.
“I have a lot of respect for these people,” Lepasti said. “I look forward to telling their stories.”
Lepasti’s grandparents have already helped him make connections with some other residents in the area. He plans to photograph one man who serves as a foster parent to troubled children. Another subject is a sculptor working on a veterans’ memorial.
There is a wide range of people on the Iron Range, and Lepasti looks forward to documenting that diversity. He expects the project to take some time. He’ll start with his grandparents’ connections and work out from there. He’s not sure where the path ends. He just figures he’ll know it when he gets there.
“It’s not like I’m going to finish this project within the grant period,” he said. “I have so many people I want to meet.”
Lepasti, who would eventually like to take the kind of editorial portraits that appear in magazines like Time, hopes to put together an exhibition of his photos. He would also like to collect the photos in a book.
The grant he received last week will help Lepasti pay for lighting equipment, a computer and gas to get to the Iron Range. They are purchases he would have had trouble making on his own as he pays for student loans and prepares to get married.
“I know this is what I’m supposed to do,” he said. “I’m nervous about it, because I know photography can be hard. It can be inconsistent in terms of income.
“(The grant) is huge,” he said. “That’s why I’m so grateful.”