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Uncovering Columbus: W.E. Arnold

“All of our histories are complex—there is disappointment, shame, loneliness, and there’s also joy.  I want all of it to exist, messily and awkwardly, in the photographs. Because that’s life.” – Katy Grannan, photographer These words resonated soundly through W.E. Arnold’s mind when snapping candid photos on 120mm film, serving as a makeshift motto through [...]
Danny Hamen

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“All of our histories are complex—there is disappointment, shame, loneliness, and there’s also joy.  I want all of it to exist, messily and awkwardly, in the photographs. Because that’s life.” – Katy Grannan, photographer

These words resonated soundly through W.E. Arnold’s mind when snapping candid photos on 120mm film, serving as a makeshift motto through his photographic journey. Arnold’s approach to photography is akin to stream of consciousness writing—a continuous flow of ideas uninterrupted by technical convention or apprehensive premonition.

Photography, at its core, is documenting a specific moment, sometimes striking and beautiful, other times painful and uncomfortable. Occasionally, it is memorializing a stranger’s laugh or a scenic stage of red mountains, other times it is a dilapidated building, or a man in the cold with a cigarette in hand. We have seen a recent wave of photographers aiming their lens at poverty from a privileged perspective, but Arnold contends that he is not some voyeur peeping inside a fleeting culture, but rather, a fellow member of the struggle looking to preserve what will soon be lost to time.

As he nears the end of his residency with the Second Sight Project—a community-based visual arts organization based in the blossoming neighborhood of Franklinton—Arnold is showcasing the last 13 months of his life. Strolling through the streets, engaging with strangers, he’s captured long exposure nighttime scenes, obscure neighborhood detail, and intimate portraiture. Here, we get a more closer look at the artist himself:

Photo by W.E. Arnold

In an age of amateur photographers armed with smartphones, it’s not easy to rise through the ranks using antiquated equipment. Why is shooting 120mm film important to your vision? 

120mm (medium format film) allows for more detailed images to be captured. Somehow the capturing of ‘more information’ translates to me as showing more respect to the subject matter, and project overall. Not to mention the additional layers of technicality that comes with the usage of medium format imagery. It doesn’t slow you down as much as say large format, but it does still require you to be on top of your game in order to capture the image as intended. I aim to capture images that are technically sound, while remaining profound and intriguing—this medium format allows me to do that.

 

Photo by W.E. Arnold

You say you guide your hands with your mind’s eye when out on a shoot. Could you extrapolate on that a bit?

In simplest terms, I’m referring to imagination and intuition. I believe it’s pivotal to remain open to what you encounter while you’re out shooting, and cautious that straight technical thinking can sometimes diminish such creative efforts. When I head out, camera and film in-hand, I have a very loose idea of what I’m shooting that day. People on the street, shadows at 5 p.m., whatever it may be—I stop it there. I never attempt to pre-generate images that I want to capture. I simply engage the experience and capture frames while enjoying the ride, and those ever present accompanying emotions.

Photo by W.E. Arnold

What inspired you to capture these subjects and these areas in the first place?

I grew up in Springfield Ohio, an environment very similar to Franklinton, especially in the early ’80s. So when I became a resident artist at Second Sight Project last April, I wanted to capture the rapidly changing neighborhood I was now a part of. So I set out to do just that:

Seen as a resident, accepted as just another guy trying to get by. I didn’t attempt to interrupt people’s day while out on the streets; if they clearly had no interest in engaging I kept walking. However, quite often I would get approached asking for a light, a smoke, a spare buck, and questions of, “what I was out taking photos of?” All I had to say was, “the neighborhood is changing fast and I want to capture it for what it is now, including its residents,”  and nearly every time that began a 15-20 minute conversation with people out on the street.

Photo by W.E. Arnold

Why photograph poverty?

Poverty has surrounded me for most of my life, from food stamps and free lunch at school, to struggling for basic necessities at home. Growing up, our lives were submerged in a volatile atmosphere swirling with financial concern, undiagnosed mental health issues, and substance abuse. Despite such hurdles, our parents still taught us right from wrong, made sure we went to school and did our homework. Whether intentional or not, this adversity provided a space for empathy, compassion, and understanding to blossom. The rough neighborhoods, negative influences, and undesirable situations brought with [them] a larger view of the world, and in turn, a positive life experience that guides me to this day.

Fear tends to frame our perception of neighborhoods that have a reputation for being dangerous, however exaggerated that illusion. What many see as dangerous, others see as home. This body of work challenges who we think of as our neighbors through capturing moments of humanity and cultural significance both unique to Franklinton, and yet so very common across America.

As the cycle of gentrification changes the face of neighborhoods, I aimed to capture an authentic exploration of a community “in transition.” The imagery invites the viewer to experience the beauty of a place most have little desire to venture to otherwise.

Photo by W.E. Arnold

Have any of your subjects seen the exhibit?

Yes, a few of the subjects in my current work have seen the installation, all of which have enjoyed the end result. I remain confident that any individual who participated will be proud to see their image, as I did exactly what I told them I was going to do. Capture them, as they are, displaying the images in a gallery telling the story of Franklinton as it sits today amidst constant change.

We see more and more commentary about the sensitivity of capturing people and things in blighted areas. How do you tackle that potential criticism?

Gentrification, poverty, and homelessness aren’t new problems, and neither is photographing areas affected by such social issues. What is unique is that I was able to approach the community as a fellow resident, and from a place of similar lived experiences, allowing mutual respect and understanding to guide conversations. The atmosphere of such a setting allowed for more revealing and personal images and stories to be captured. I was a neighbor—I looked like them, I talked like them—they let me captured them. Together, we are poverty.

 No.13 Obscured by Clouds will be showing at The Second Sight Project in Franklinton. For more information, visit secondsightfranklinton.com.

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Arts & Culture

Two of the 13 “Greatest Places in America” are in Central Ohio

Mike Thomas

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Throughout Central Ohio, efforts to uplift communities have been ongoing for decades. Now, some of these efforts are garnering attention on the national stage.

According to a report from Columbus Business First, The Short North Arts District and Delaware's historic downtown were named among 13 “Great Places in America” by the American Planning Association, a national organization of urban planners.

The APA's picks highlight locales representing “the gold standard for a true sense of place, cultural and historical interest, community involvement, and a vision for the future.”

In its rundown of the Short North Arts District, the APA points to the neighborhood's status as "a pioneer in urban revitalization in Central Ohio," and goes on to call the neighborhood the "art and soul" of the City of Columbus.

As for downtown Delaware, the APA It highlighted efforts by civic and business leaders in transforming the derelict city center into a thriving neighborhood full of attractive amenities for locals and visitors to enjoy.

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Arts & Culture

Nina West makes TV History with Emmys appearance

Mike Thomas

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Hometown hero Nina West is having a big year. Following her "Miss Congeniality" win in season 11 of RuPaul's Drag Race, West has released of a children’s music album, Drag Is Magic, and a comedy EP, titled John Goodman.

Now, the Columbus drag icon can add a moment of television history to her impressive list of accomplishments.

According to Deadline.com, West is the first person in Emmys history to walk the purple carpet in full drag.

Season 11 of Drag Race, which airs on VH-1 and has been renewed for a 12th season, took home 4 Emmy wins, including the trophy for "Outstanding Reality Show." The long running competition was nominated for 14 awards in all—the most of any VH-1 show in history.

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Arts & Culture

How Bazaar: Popup arts fest shines a light on local creatives

Mike Thomas

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While cultivating a newfound sense of personal fulfillment might be as simple as picking up a paint brush or instrument, earning a living through your art is a more complicated prospect. As longtime friends, collaborators, and Columbus art-scene hustlers Dustin Bennett and Zak Biggard will tell you, making it as an artist sometimes comes down to who you know.

Having met years ago as coworkers at a local printmaking shop, Bennett and Biggard have gone on to individual success with their own creative design firms. For Bennett, part of this work entails curating the art displayed at Clintonville’s Global Gallery, a cafe and art space that is committed to promoting fair trade handcrafted products from around the world.

When an exhibition Bennett was planning for the space fell through, he reached out to Biggard to fill the vacancy with his work. The resulting show was a hit, with Biggard selling several pieces in one of Global Gallery’s most successful exhibitions to date.

Biggard and Bennett outside of Global Gallery (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

His reputation with the venue established, Biggard approached Amy Palmer, Global Gallery’s manager, with an idea for a large-scale show. She gave him the thumbs up, and Biggard again partnered with Bennett to help bring his vision to light. The result is a show spanning three weekends in the month of August that the duo have dubbed Bazaar Ritual.

“The idea was a bazaar, this sort of Middle-Eastern marketplace where you walk in and it’s just a feast for the senses,” says Biggard. “All of these different sights, sounds, smells—everything packed together.”

As mutually beneficial as their collaborations had been, the Bennett and Biggard hope to open the doors of opportunity wide to other artists. Through this new exhibition/festival, the two aim to shed a light on creators who may not know how to navigate the sometimes complicated process of getting work into a conventional art show.

“Most of these people have never been involved in the gallery scene or never been able to show their work off,” Biggard explains. “They are just so excited to be a part of something, and the stuff I’ve been seeing from people, I just can't wait to have everything together in one place.”

When the exhibitors do come together for the popup-style event on August 3rd, 17th, and 31st, they will bring with them works across a diverse range of media.

“We’ve got people who make jewelry, clothing, glass blowers, painters and performance artists,” says Biggard. “It’s really the diversity of the work that’s the theme.”

As diverse as the work on display in the show will be, the exhibitors themselves hail from various disparate walks of life—everyone from nurses to dog walkers, printmakers to salespeople, as Bennett explains. In addition to the work shown during the recurring weekend events, each artist in Bazaar Ritual will have the opportunity to display one piece in Global Gallery throughout the month of August. Artists will keep 100% of the proceeds sold throughout the month and during the weekend events.

https://www.instagram.com/p/By0yi8xhuPE/

Along with providing a platform, the Bennett and Biggard hope that Bazaar Ritual will serve as a networking hub where creatives can meet and form collaborations of their own. Response from artists interested in taking part has already been building organically, with those involved telling their friends, those friends bringing more friends, and so on.

In addition to the prospect of hanging out with artists and perusing the exhibitions, the organizers of Bazaar Ritual have a number of surprises in store for attendees. Food trucks will be on hand, as well as live local music on Global Gallery’s spacious patio.

Though Bennett and Bigard are working diligently to bring this fledgling event to fruition, the two seem calm in the lead up to the show. Their artist-first approach lends a communal feel to the event, with creatives joining forces to put on an organized yet laid-back experience that shirks the corporate mold of some traditional gallery settings.

“We’re trying to do what art is meant to do and bring people together,” says Bennett. “We’re trying to bring together as many friends and strangers as we can—motleys and misfits alike.”

Global Gallery is located at 3535 N High St, in Clintonville. You can visit Bazaar Ritual there from 1:00 PM to 8:00 PM on the 3rd, the 17th, and the 31st of August. For more information, check out @bazaarritual on Instagram.

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