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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 [...]
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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 Fest Preview: See BalletMet live outdoors!

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BalletMet’s Friday night’s headline performance at 8:30 p.m. at the Arts Festival is sure to be a highlight of weekend. One of the nation’s top 20 largest professional companies, BalletMet consists of dancers hailing from across the nation and the world and boasts a premiere academy for aspiring professional dancers, one that’s been recognized as an institution of local and national stature.

Since 1978, BalletMet has brought incredible dance to theaters in Central Ohio and beyond and their commitment to bringing dance to the Columbus community, especially in underserved areas, is unparalleled.

Art of War Photo by Jen Zmuda

From in-school programs to theater field trips, scholarships and free performances, the company is dedicated to making dance accessible to all. More than 10,000 children attend the company’s Morning at the Ballet field trip performances each year. And thanks to a grant from PNC Arts Alive, BalletMet’s second company, BalletMet 2, has performed at free events at the King Arts Complex, Franklin Park Conservatory and more, throughout the 2018-19 season.

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In addition to the free performance at the Arts Festival BalletMet will perform at Dance on Dakota on Friday, May 10, from 5 to 8 p.m. in Franklinton. This performance is also free.

Dance on Dakota, co-hosted by Franklinton Arts District, is part of a weekend-long block party in Franklinton and features free food and drink and a collaborative performance with TRANSIT ARTS. The event will take place at Dakota Ave. and Town St.

Dancers Grace Anne Powers and William Newton Photo by Jen Zmuda

BalletMet’s Columbus Arts Festival performance will include a mixed repertoire of shorter pieces from its past productions and will be preceded by music from DJ Donnie M. of Damn Girl.

And if these performances capture your interest, the company recently announced its 2019-20 season, which includes ALICE, based on the later stories of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll, Twisted 3, a collaboration with the Columbus Symphony and Opera Columbus, and, of course, The Nutcracker.

More info at www.balletmet.org. For all your Arts Festival details visit www.colubmusartsfestival.org

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Arts Fest Preview: You wood hate to miss local crafter

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Woodworker and Art Makes Columbus featured artist Devon Palmer has been working with his hands since his upbringing in northeast Indiana. His mother a wood carver and his father a carpenter and cabinet maker, Palmer took a more mechanical route by obtaining his pilot’s license and attending Purdue University to pursue a career as an airplane mechanic.

But as his career transitioned from maintenance to the tech field, he yearned to work with his hands again. Originally he considered pottery, before a class he planned to attend got canceled. But a trip home the weekend before Thanksgiving led to his father introducing him to woodturning.

That was more than 15 years ago. And though he is largely self-taught, Palmer also credits local woodturners from the Central Ohio Woodturners (a chapter of the American Association of Woodturners) for taking him under their wing. In 2005, he opened his first studio just north of Downtown, and in 2007 he began teaching woodturning at Woodcraft Columbus.

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Today, Palmer does a bit of mentoring of his own. He teaches classes in blade and bowl turning, resin cast pen turning and more advanced projects like hollow vessel turning in his studio at the Idea Foundry. He is also adding a series of LGBTQ date night pen turning classes to his growing schedule of classes, shows and demonstrations.

Palmer says his work represents “family and connectedness” with work ranging from salad bowls and laser engraved pens to funerary urns and ornaments. The details in his hand-crafted tableware and home goods manage to invoke a warm sense of community, fellowship, and hospitality.

Devon Palmer works in internet technology and is also a pianist and ordained minister.

Make your own wood turned pen with Devon Palmer at the Columbus Arts Festival, June 7-9, at the Big Local Art Village located at the Festival’s Franklinton entrance. Learn more about Devon at www.columbusmakesart.com/stories/devon-palmer and get all your Arts Festival details at www.columbusartsfestival.org

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Arts Festival Preview: Dr. E uses voice to overcome adversity

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Dr. E, singer-songwriter and author Cleveland-born singer-songwriter Dr. Elaine Richardson — known by her stage name Dr. E — has used her voice to detail the incredible circumstances she encountered while overcoming great adversity. Born to a musician father and Jamaican immigrant mother, Dr. E begun tapping into her talent while singing in church, her school’s choir, and in girl groups.

Dr. E continued to sing despite the difficult path she faced. As a teen, she became a sex trafficking victim and fell into addiction. In her recovery, she pursued higher education at Cleveland State University and Michigan State University. During this time Dr. E also began performing as the frontwoman for a number of cover bands and placing her original music on various TV shows. She recorded her first album, “Elevated,” in 2010.

Dr. E’s introspective song lyrics reflect the often difficult process of healing while defending those who share her experiences or face exploitation and discrimination in other ways.

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On her sophomore album, 2017’s “Songs for the Struggle,” she gives a soulful retelling of her journey from sex trafficking survivor to university professor, Ph.D., author and advocate. Blending elements of soul, rock, funk, rhythm and blues, and jazz, Dr. E sings with an astonishing amount of hope and positivity; Though the album details the trauma and exploitation experienced by Dr. E during her teen years, her power message ultimately expresses affirmations of self-love and acceptance employed with an equally powerful and joyous voice.

Dr. E is currently a professor of literacy studies in the College of Education at The Ohio State University. She has written a number of books on African American literature as well as a memoir, “PHD to Ph.D.: How Education Saved My Life.”

See Dr. E. perform at the Columbus Arts Festival, Saturday, June 8 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. on the Big Local Stage on Rich St.

For hours, artist listing and all Festival information go to www.columbusartsfestival.org

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