“Floating Winona” is a photographic project about The Latsch Island Boathouse Community on the Mississippi River in Minnesota, focused on the interaction of landscape, vernacular floating architecture and the daily life of the Island inhabitants.
There are people who live in particular places, strange, difficult and apparently unlikely and unobserved, adopting creative solutions for local conditions and elements. “The Latsch Island boathouse community” is one of these places and the people of this green island live in floating houses, called “Boathouse.”
Latsch Island is in the middle of the Mississippi River, connected by an interstate bridge to the City of Winona, Minnesota on one side, and the green forests of Wisconsin on the other. Ninety-nine boathouses line the north shore of the island, while about twenty to twenty-five people live there year-round.
The “Latsch Island Boathouse Community” has a unique history, spanning more than a hundred years and it hasn’t always been easy for this community. In fact, after a century of existence, the community needed to establish “The Winona Boathouse Association”, the WBA, in 1991 to be a legal entity to defend their grandfathered right to continue to live on the river. The DNR accused the island residents of using a public property for private purposes and using the river in an “inappropriate” way.
And most of the residents had contributed to the Island’s poor reputation: loud parties, alcohol, and drugs were the norm for many years during the 70’s and 80’s. The island residents were called “boat people” or “river rats” and viewed as outcasts—socially, politically, and environmentally. After long years of legal battles, the WBA’s By-laws, Rules and Regulations, Mooring Agreement and Building Codes were passed unanimously in winter, 1997. The court recognized the legitimacy of the community and a legal immunity was granted to the boathouses. Today Latsch Island is considered an important part of Winona’s cultural heritage.
The fighting past and the captivating natural beauty gave me reasons to persist in this project and return many more times. I appreciated the life philosophy of the island inhabitants, an example of an American style of freedom and dreams that doesn’t happen everywhere.
These floating houses are rooted in American self-sufficiency and historical ecological models, with a lineage to Thoreau’s construction of his own house from recycled wood. They exist outside the usual economic systems dictated by commercial real estate interests, a turning away from suburban developments toward communal lifestyles. Similar to Sybil Moholy-Nagy’s Native Geniuses in Anonymous Architecture, an exploration of the significance of vernacular forms of architecture from a cross-cultural perspective, and Bernard Rudolfsky’s Architecture without Architects, my “Floating Winona” project documents alternative models of human habitation.
I went to photograph Latsch Island in the summer 2007, 2008, in the winter 2008, to capture these two different seasons.
I’d really like to continue this project and go back during the spring floods, when the winter snow melts from the mountains and during heavy rains, the river can rise up to 15-17 feet and runs in a torrent 10-12 feet above the island’s banks. From a visual prospective can be potentially very interesting, because Latsh Island disappears completely and the boathouses float at the level of the treetops and the life of the inhabitants change another time. Once again this place will be very different, that is one of its characteristic, and whatever happens to the Big Mississippi, the bizarre boathouses and their inhabitants continue to float. I’d like to shoot also more boathouses’ interiors with people and more portraits of the particular inhabitants of Latsh Island, but I can’t afford anymore to go back for the fourth time and continue this project, shooting in films, in medium format 6x9, and print C-Prints 11x14 and some 30x40 inches (no any digital process). I had some proposes to do a book with this project next summer 2011 so, now I really need to go back for the flood season. This is the reason why I’m submitting this application for this grant.
“Floating Winona” is dedicated to the special inhabitants of The Latsch Island Boathouse
Community and to the natural beauties of The Big Mississippi River.
In October 2008 a small part of this project, printed in 30x40 inches, has been exposed at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery, Department of Art, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, for “The sixth Minnesota National Print Biennial 2008.”