Fresno Beehive

Then and now in photos: Mai Der Vang and the evolution of a mural

Top: In this 2010 photo, Mai Der Vang helps prepare a mural at the Louie Kee Market. Below, Vang poses in front of the mural she helped paint as she celebrates the publication of ‘Afterland.
Top: In this 2010 photo, Mai Der Vang helps prepare a mural at the Louie Kee Market. Below, Vang poses in front of the mural she helped paint as she celebrates the publication of ‘Afterland. The Fresno Bee

The assignment: Bee photographer John Walker was asked to get an image of Fresno poet Mai Der Vang in front of a vibrant mural at the former Louie Kee Market at the corner of B Street and Tulare Avenue in Fresno.

The news angle: Mai Der is celebrating the launch of her new book of poetry, titled “Afterland,” Thursday at Bitwise South Stadium, and I marked the occasion with an interview in Friday’s Seven section.

The significance of the location: Mai Der was the media director with the kNOw Youth Media organization and helped paint the mural. The project was a first step in a long-term initiative to promote healthy and positive youth participation in the community. When I asked Mai Der where she’d like to be photographed downtown for my interview, she picked this location as having a strong personal connection.

The coincidence: In 2010, Walker was driving around town looking for “wild art” – that’s newspeak for a standalone photo of interest – when he happened upon a striking scene of a woman with a red bucket helping to prep a mural for painting. That woman was Mai Der. “Look at this!” John told me when he got back to the office, pulling up the earlier photo on his screen.

The result: We have a “before” and “after” shot of Vang, seven years apart, by the same photographer and at the same place. Little did she know at the time that she’d win the national 2016 Walt Whitman Award and get a book deal out of it.

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