Coffee Hag portrait wall wraps up

Josh Madson had a vision for the Mankato community. 

He wanted to do a project where the community came together visually to show off the diversity of Mankato. 

This project was the “Mankato Community Collage.” He photographed over 800 individuals for this project, and his photos filled the walls of the Coffee Hag this past month. 

The photo sessions happened over the summer, and it took about three days to complete the work. They photographed 200 people the first two days. Demand was so strong they added a third day.  

On that third day, they photographed over 400 people. Because of that, they had to do the photoshoot somewhere other than the Coffee Hag. Madson said he is good friends with the owners of the Number 4 Steakhouse, so they set up shop there. 

“The Number 4 has four times the space that the Coffee Hag has, and I thought maybe it would be a fun opportunity to try a different location,” said Madson. “I brought a headset and a microphone so I didn’t have to scream over the DJ this time. And that helped me not completely lose my voice. I was talking for 12 hours straight.” 

Madson first got people interested in doing this through radio interviews and speaking to students at Bethany Lutheran College. He then put fliers everywhere and quarter-size sheets of paper and put them in every business he could think of. He didn’t know that it would turn into so much more. 

“I couldn’t have asked for a better result. People are so happy, and watching all the images show up on social media was fantastic. I didn’t expect that,” said Madson. “Most people there made it their social media profile photo, and what started to happen was their friends and family started to see that, and people were like, where are all these black and white photos coming from?” 

One of the 800-plus people photographed was Blair VanZee-Byro, who works at Radio Mankato. Madson had been on one of their shows talking about the project, which is how she got to be a part of it. She said she was a little nervous about doing this at first.

“I never feel natural in front of a camera, but Josh was so awesome, a true hype-man. It definitely brought out some confidence in me seeing such a nice picture of myself,” said VanZee-Byro. “It was just cool to point out a photo of myself in an exhibit of that size. And to find all of my friends and other people I recognize. It made the world not seem so big.” 

Madson hoped the Mankato community got a lot out of this project. He said it helped bring people together from across a region of about 100,000 people.

“People have seen each other in their photos and then run into each other outside and recognized each other and are like, ‘Oh, you’re part of that collage,’ and for all intents and purposes, those are not people that were necessarily like hanging out together,” said Madson. “But now they had a mutual common talking point. Then they started talking and became Facebook friends.” 

The portrait wall will be open for one more week at the Coffee Hag before they tear it down. The Coffee Hag is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Sunday.

Write to Lauren Viska at lauren.viska@mnsu.edu

Header Photo: The Mankato Community Collage project was created by Josh Madson as a way to showcase the diversity and harmony of the Mankato community Sept. 2023. (Dylan Long/The Reporter)

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