Photographer Cancels Photo Mural of Greta Thunberg After Boycott Threats

Wet plate photographer Shane Balkowitsch has canceled plans to put up a mural of his portrait of climate activist Greta Thunberg after locals threatened to boycott the business in the building.

Balkowitsch did a 20-minute photo shoot with the then-16-year-old Thunberg in October 2019 when she visited the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in the Dakotas.

The portraits have received quite a bit of attention, and the portrait above, titled “Standing For Us All,” was donated by the photographer to the Library of Congress.

Balkowitsch then came up with the idea of displaying it as a 7-foot-tall mural on the side of a building in downtown Bismarck, North Dakota.

Balkowitsch proposed putting a 7-foot-tall mural of his photo on the side of this building in downtown Bismarck. Photo by Google Street View.
The mural’s proposed appearance and dimensions on the brick wall. Image via KFYR-TV.

Even though the project would have been funded by Balkowitsch himself, it seems many residents weren’t fond of the idea.

After securing permission from the building’s owner and bakery tenant as well as an approval recommendation from the city planning staff, Balkowitsch got the idea featured by local news station KFYR-TV.

The station also shared the story on its Facebook page, but that’s when things started getting contentious.

The Facebook post was soon flooded by North Dakotans expressing displeasure about the planned mural. Most of the 1,200 comments published thus far seem to be critical of the idea.

Other comments mentioned boycotting the business, Brick Oven Bakery, or vandalizing the mural once it was put up. Unwilling to put the business at risk for the mural, Balkowitsch and the bakery quickly withdrew their mural application.

The photographer says that the mural was more about art and history than politics.

“There was no motivation other than install a very important piece of history that was captured here in North Dakota, in Bismarck — but I guess Bismarck doesn’t want it,” Balkowitsch tells The Bismarck Tribune. “I feel for the bakery. I can’t have some business being threatened for my work.

“It’s a picture of a 17-year-old girl; that’s all it is to me. Her message and stuff, that’s her message. As an artist, it’s my duty to capture the history surrounding her, and the fact that she came to North Dakota, and the reservation down at Standing Rock.”

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