“There’s constantly so much bad news on the block,” said multimedia storyteller, photographer and food artist Ellie Markovitch of the neighborhood around 3361 6th Ave., the home of the Sanctuary for Independent Media in North Troy. “These photographs do show the community coming together.”
She’s talking about the work of four photographers, from novice to acclaimed photojournalist, on exhibition in “Planting Seeds: Four Lenses on North Troy.” Their work is on display in the art gallery at the Sanctuary for Independent Media through Dec. 16.
‘Planting Seeds: Four Lenses on North Troy’
WHERE: Sanctuary for Independent Media, 3361 6th Ave., Troy
WHEN: Through Dec. 16. Gallery hours are an hour before, during and an hour after events, or by appointment.
HOW MUCH: Free.
MORE INFO: 272-2390, www.mediasanctuary.org
The exhibition showcases the photographs of Markovitch, Brenda Ann Kenneally, Patrick Dodson and Brian Jones. Each turned his or her camera to the one city block around the Sanctuary for weeks or years, to capture life there — the victories and the struggles.
Many of the photographs were taken during “Uptown Summer,” a collaborative program between the Troy Bike Rescue, Collard City Growers, Missing Link Street Ministry and Youth Media Sanctuary.
During Markovitch’s “DIY SnackShops,” she would take youths from the block to the garden at the Collard City Growers to harvest some of the bounty planted by local residents and then cook with the ingredients, documenting the whole process with photographs and video.
The Sanctuary’s programs, many of which feature interactive media activities, are its way of using art as a venue for positive interactions for the residents around the sanctuary.
“It’s a great show which reveals the power of art as a seed for so many exciting interactions in the North Troy community,” said Branda Miller, a professor of media arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the arts in education coordinator at the Sanctuary.
These four photographers, in their own way, are planting seeds — ideas, rather — with their photographic works, about the good that is going on in this neighborhood, long-known for its crime and poverty, as well as giving a face to the people who are struggling there.
“We want to transform the stereotypical negative representations that we see in the media of people living in North Troy and replace it with positive,” Miller said.
Dodson, a Gazette staff photographer, was looking for something interesting to do last summer, so he volunteered some of his free time to document Markovitch’s activities with the youth during “Uptown Summer.” He wasn’t all that familiar with North Troy, but he found out about the collaborative efforts of the Sanctuary and its neighbors on the block as he was photographing and blogging about the activities.
Some of his photographs show the kids as they are working their own cameras, filming for the “DIY Snackshop,” as well as enjoying the fresh food they helped to prepare.
What will be interesting for visitors, Dodson thinks, is that after viewing the exhibition, they can walk outside and see where all the photographs were taken. “You’ll see everything you just saw [in the photographs] in a whole new light,” he said.
Markovitch has always documented her work with photographs, which she sees as a way to continue the conversation about the events that inspired them. “I’m constantly sharing these images with the participants and using the photography to help build community,” she said.
The photographs feature all of the nutritional efforts that are being made on the block, including growing vegetables, cooking healthy, budget-friendly meals, and learning how to cook different cultural dishes.
A new approach
This project has Markovitch working in a new way. Many of the photos capture the kids doing their own photography. “Even though we are the official photographers, there’s a lot of media that gets made by the subjects in the photographs,” she said.
“I used to be documenting the subject, and now I’m documenting with the subject. That is a pretty dramatic change in voice. I’m not just a fly on the wall anymore. I come to events, and I bring extra cameras. That creates a more balanced view of the event.”
Journalist and activist Kenneally, well-known for her long-term work documenting those in poverty and their efforts to escape it, depicts the life of a young boy, Donny, in her body of work titled, “Troy’s Native Son.” Kenneally’s signature is long-term, deep involvement with her subjects, showing changes over time.
She has been photographing Donny and his mother, Kayla, since he was born when Kayla was 14 in 2004. Donny has emotional and behavioral disabilities, and Kenneally gives viewers a haunting, intense and emotional look into the life of this young boy and his family as his mother and grandmother try to help him. These very personal photographs put faces on the plight and struggles of those living in poverty in viewers’ backyards. “She is so deeply committed to telling the story of these young people growing up facing so many challenges,” Miller said.
When he was an electronic media arts and communication student at RPI, Jones, of Syracuse, worked with Markovitch to document the activities of Uptown Summer. “He’s an African-American RPI student — a football player — who really blossomed when he had the opportunity to come down from the hill of RPI and connect personally with our neighbors in North Troy,” Miller said.
Jones felt he had something in common with his subjects. “I’m from a neighborhood that is the exact mirror images of Troy,” Jones said. “I know that feeling of being in the city with everything going on, cast in the university’s shadow,” he said, noting that one forgets about the people who live in the city surrounding the college.
“I love to still my frames with faces,” he said. “A face shows you everything you need to know about a situation and what’s happening.”
Jones’ photographs in the exhibition were first on display at RPI. His original intention was to show that there is more going on in Troy than RPI. He enjoyed his practical experience in photojournalism. “The experience was better than having the final product,” he said. “The whole journey was greater than my destination.”
Markovitch hopes that people who see the exhibition will learn more about what is being done in North Troy and get excited about and involved in it.
“We put the show on now to honor the people of the community and the creative community actions that have been happening there,” Miller said. “This is a perfect way for us to begin our ‘Found Art in North Troy’ grant.”
This year, the Media Alliance, which operates the Sanctuary for Independent Media, received one of 80 “Our Town” grants from the National Endowment for the Arts for the “Found Art in North Troy” project. As part of the settlement of the Media Alliance’s lawsuit against the City of Troy for shutting down a 2008 anti-war video installation by Iraqi American artist Wafaa Bilal, the city will match the $50,000 grant for the project.