The Grand Terrace Photo League was an eight-week photo ethnography of the Grand Terrace apartment complex in Worthington, Minnesota, made in collaboration with its residents, Lloyd Building Management, the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership, and me, documentary storyteller Nik Nerburn. 



Worthington is in the far southwest corner of Minnesota, about thirty miles east of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and about ten miles north of the Iowa border. It is the economic hub for five Minnesota and three Iowa counties. The population hovers around 13,000, although it once shrank to little more than 8,000.

Over the past forty years, Worthington has undergone a dramatic population shift. The town is now a mix of historic residents, who are primarily German and Scandinavian, and recent east African (primarily Ethiopian), southeast Asian, and Hispanic immigrants.  As of the last census count, 4,500 of the town’s 12,764 residents are Hispanic. Per capita, it’s the third most diverse community in the state, with the population speaking 58 languages. The primary employer in town is JBS Pork, a processing plant with wages starting at $15.90/hour, where many of the recent immigrants work. Grand Terrace, a 48-unit apartment complex, stands at the crossroads of this population shift. It primarily houses working families that, in total, speak seven different languages.

The Photo League served the building residents by offering a variety of photography-based programming, including free family portraits taken in the studio set up in the building’s community room, restoration of old family photos, and an after school drop-in program where youth explored a wide variety of photographic techniques while documenting their lives in and around the apartment complex, all provided at no cost to residents.

Above all else, the Photo League sought to respond to the needs and desires of the building residents.  The idea was to use the unique opportunities for interaction that photography offers to reveal their experience as residents of Grand Terrace and the community of Worthington.  My goal, as the facilitator, was to lend my photographic skills and equipment in ways that would allow them to do this, and, in the process, to create a documentary portrait of this unique and vibrant living situation in southwestern Minnesota. The project culminated in a permanent collection of photographs by resident youth installed in the apartment complex.