MAES Spotlight: MAES Media Library Captures Decades of Research Stories

Since 1975, David Hansen has documented thousands of research projects and their footprint on everyday life for the University of Minnesota. His work captured research related to apples, bioenergy, human and animal nutrition, climatology, insects, plant and animal genetics, soil and water, forest ecology, livestock, plant diseases and dozens of other topics.

Now retired, his photo collection has been added to UMedia—MAES Media Gallery—fulfilling a long-term goal to have his photos freely accessible to the University and public to enjoy for decades to come. 

Finding His Calling

As a UMN photojournalism major, Hansen loved everything about photography but he was to truly find his calling in the classroom of Don Breneman. Breneman, a UMN Extension photographer and instructor, was teaching a class on close-up photography to agronomy students and invited Hansen to join. Hansen found he enjoyed focusing his camera on issues related to scientific discovery. Soon he started to assist with class instruction and eventually was hired as an Extension photographer. Over the next decade, he evolved into a full-time photographer for MAES where he remained until his retirement in June 2018.

Leaving No Stone Unturned

Besides shooting in every corner and county of Minnesota, Hansen has tracked the impact of UMN research to all continents except Antarctica. He has worked on University projects in many countries: Morocco, Poland, Israel, Chile, New Zealand, Germany, Kenya and Tanzania. He has also taught numerous visual communication workshops in Pakistan and India.

“One of the most challenging—and rewarding—trips was leading a diverse group of UM students to Poland,” says Hansen. “We went on 44 field trips and hiked miles each day photographing farms and forests and learning culture and history.”

Beyond the Dark Room

Hansen’s artful, colorful images have been featured in publications, posters, exhibitions, and visual displays both within and beyond the University. His passion for visual story telling led him to collaborate on numerous MAES publications including Minnesota Hardy, From Genetics to Genomics and Food for Life.

“My goal has always been to help people gain a better understanding of land-grant university science and its contributions to everyday life,” he says.

A Lasting Legacy

Along with making photos is the task of managing and distributing them. During his time at MAES, Hansen managed a collection of well over 100,000 high resolution images. With the launch of the new MAES Media Gallery, a long-term goal of his has been realized.

“Photos are of almost no value unless they’re identified, accessible, affordable and actually used,” explains Hansen. “Technology of the last two decades allows this. I began organizing the collection over 45 years ago and it flowed right into the new system.”

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