An unusual sight greeted travelers on the University of Minnesota Transitway in Minneapolis a few weekends back.
A photographer sat on a trailer faced backwards, staring intently through his video rig at a young Somali man getting ready to run.
"So this is what we are going to do," said video-maker Jefferson Pinder, who sat on a bike attached to the trailer. "We are going to go down here to that silo. Off you go."
Pinder was shooting the video for the Northern Spark Festival this weekend in Minneapolis. It will be shown on the side of a building at 5th Street and Hennepin Avenue.
The Chicago-based artist makes videos of African-American people working, aiming to show how physical effort changes them. For him, running is work that involves expending energy. He tries to capture those moments when exhaustion hits.
But for the video shot in Minneapolis, he wanted to add an extra layer and explore the tradition of long-distance running among Somalis.
"I think there are a lot of really rich associations with endurance and East Africans in general," he said.
The video, which Pinder calls "Relay," features about a dozen Somalis of all ages, running hard. The huge images will be shown on a downtown building Saturday night through Sunday morning.
Pinder said the video amounts to a series of portraits that have allowed him to learn about Somalis.
"Their experience is very different than mine as a black man, you know?" he said. "And when I was putting together my ideas for this project, I thought it would be really wonderful to do an honest piece about a population of black people that I feel I have a connection with but culturally are very different from me."
Planning the video shoot took months of presentations and meetings in which he explained the process to the Somali community. That's when Pinder heard their stories.
For Sarah Peters, Northern Spark's associate director, the project is well worth the effort.
"The idea that we would be able to engage a different segment of the population than maybe is normally engaged with Northern Spark was exciting to us," she said.
The video generated excitement among runners.
"I'm about to run for the first time, that's all I know," Abdirizak Bihi said with a laugh as he waited his turn.
At first, Bihi denied being a runner. Then he recalled how when he was a young man back in Somalia, he and friends went for long runs several times a week. On Sundays they ran along the beach in Mogadishu.
Bihi is one of the people who worked with Pinder on the project, which he sees as good for Minnesota Somalis.
"After we have so many big time issues, it is difficult for the community to perceive us as good neighbors, sometimes," he said. "So this will help our image."
After a weekend of shooting, Pinder took his tape to Washington D.C., where he spent the last month editing. Reached there by phone, he said he is pleased with the way it's turning out.
It's not the kind of quick cutting video seen on television, he said, but more of a meditation on people and movement.
Pinder hopes seeing the images of Somali faces projected across a downtown building will encourage Minnesotans to learn more about their neighbors — as he has.
"Quite frankly it was a huge learning curve, and I feel like I am still learning a lot about the plight of Somali-Americans," he said.
Pinder believes he has a lot more work to do with his Somali material after Northern Spark. He's planning a multi-screen museum presentation, with sound, which he promises to bring back to Minneapolis next year.