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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

Arts Fest Preview: Kate Morgan, 2D mixed media artist

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Kate Morgan began developing her ghostly, layered two-dimensional portraits after going back to school at the Columbus College of Art & Design in 2005. She already had some background in visual arts through her work in fashion and commercial photography, so the transition to drawing and painting was organic.

Morgan’s textured collages are inspired by folklore, mythology and a variety of artistic periods — especially Byzantine art. The 2011 Columbus Arts Festival Emerging Artist alum and 2019 exhibiting artist welcomes a wide array of complex themes into her pieces — including symbolic, cultural, historical and spiritual themes — while utilizing layers of vintage paper and original drawings to create visual depth and a sense of mystery.

Her pieces are purposely vague, leaning toward more minimalistic ideas to allow for wider interpretation by audiences. Largely her art depicts the female form, with as many layers and stories to tell as that of every human being. This is done with an eclectic assortment of materials — including sheet music, German Biblical pages, newspaper and maps — to add detail in both a topical and textural sense.

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And yet, Morgan still continues to look for a challenge. From venturing away from her familiar blue hues to exploring different mediums like ceramics, her work knows no creative limits.

Morgan has exhibited at the Columbus Arts Festival nearly every year since 2011. She has gone on to win two jurors’ choice awards in the 2D category at the Columbus Arts Festival, as well as sell and have work juried at other major festivals across the country. In Columbus, her work can be seen as part of the Columbus Makes Art and Donatos Pizza collaborative mural “Every Piece Is Important” at the John Glenn Columbus International Airport.

Morgan has a BFA from CCAD and currently works out of her Franklinton studio in Columbus. Experience this stunning work first hand when you visit her at booth M572 on the Main Street Bridge during the Columbus Arts Festival from June 7-9 at the downtown riverfront.

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Arts & Culture

Be Square: Changes coming to arts community at 400 W Rich

Mike Thomas

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If you haven’t visited the thriving arts community at 400 West Rich street in awhile, you might be surprised to see how much things have changed. Now, the minds behind the city’s hub for the arts are changing things up to better reflect the area’s evolution.

400 Square is the new collective moniker for the array of concepts that currently occupy the buildings on the 400 block of Rich street in Franklinton. The rebrand seeks to unify the community of artistic innovators who call the area developed by Urban Smart Growth their creative home.

Promo art for 400 Square by Anthony Damico

Spaces encompassed in the rebrand include Strongwater, The Vanderelli Room, and Chromedge Studios, and of course, the studios at 400 W. Rich. While the name may be changing, the group remains committed to providing and sustaining a thriving hub for creatives through education, resources, and entertainment opportunities in the area.

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With the launch of 400 Square, Urban Smart Growth Director of Operations Seth Stout has led his team to develop new offerings for each of the growing spaces. Food and Beverage Director Lauren Conrath and Events Director Molly Blundred have taken the lead with changes to the Strongwater brand, while Community Director Stephanie McGlone and Art Director AJ Vanderelli are facilitating programming for all ages and abilities on the artist side.

Through all of the changes on the way, the staff at 400 Square are committed to bringing the public the same high quality of workshops, events, exhibitions, and more that have always been part of their unique creative community.

Stay tuned for more info—the new 400 Square officially rolls out during the weekend of Columbus Arts Fest 2019, June 7-9.

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Arts & Culture

Arts Fest Preview: Cousin Simple to wow crowd with energy, passion

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As a young up-and-coming band, Cousin Simple is excited to play at this year’s Columbus Art’s Festival. In their two years as a band, they have already done a lot of really cool things, such as making a single with L.A. multi-platinum music producer David Kershenbaum, playing at Vans Warped Tour at Blossom Music Center, and selling out shows at the A&R Bar, the Basement and The Big Room Bar. But there is much more they want to accomplish including recording more music, making a music video and playing more shows in and out of Columbus.

The band members are all Columbus born and raised. Four members currently attend The Ohio State University, while their drummer Joel is finishing up his junior year at New Albany high School. Cousin Simple brings an energy and passion to the stage and gives everything they have to their performances, regardless of the crowd size. They just released a new single in February called Honeybee, available on iTunes and Spotify and have a single set to release May 10 titled “Star Destroyers.”

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Columbus is a great city for musicians. Whether you’re in the indie, rock, or hip hop scene, there are other musicians and music industry people willing to help you out. Columbus also takes a great sense of pride in its “local gems.” People love to see musicians who are doing well in their hometown and are willing to support them in many ways.

There are so many organizations that have taken this to heart and are helping bands get great opportunities. CD102.5, WCBE 90.5, PromoWest Productions and the Columbus Music Commission have helped Cousin Simple get airtime, shows and support. When it comes to music cities, Columbus may not be the first place that comes to mind, but there are so many bands and musicians doing exciting things it’s making the future bright for them and the Columbus music scene.

But Cousin Simple recognizes that none of this would be possible without the support of their family, friends and FANS that come to each and every show. They are humbled and motivated by their audiences who energize them to make every performance an experience their fans won’t forget. 

Cousin Simple will perform on the Big Local Music Stage on Rich Street on Friday night, June 7 at 7:45 p.m.

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