Photographers look around to see within
NSO Bell Building residents stage new exhibition
By Phreddy Wischusen
The Michigan Citizen
With the 2011 renovation of Oakman Boulevard’s Bell Building, which towers over the Detroit-Highland Park border, the Neighborhood Service Organization was able to provide fresh opportunities to the iconic piece of architecture and to more than 150 new residents, all of whom had been homeless.
NSO’s program is unique and comprehensive; apartments are furnished with everything down to the toothpaste for incoming residents, life-skills training and counseling is available, and one volunteer, Matthew Rosso, has been working to connect each of the residents with opportunities to get healthcare under the Affordable Care Act.
The program has already helped many people transition into independent, healthy and financially sustainable lives.
With the success of the program comes one potential pitfall: It is tempting as a journalist to inadvertently marginalize the residents by over emphasizing the society-victim/non-profit savior dialectic aspect of the story.
In a new exhibition, titled “Through Our Eyes,” Bell Building residents not only take the reins of their own narratives, they also demonstrate their skills and talents as artists/photographers in their own right.
Works by 17 Bell tenants will be on display in the Bell Building lobby (882 Oakman Blvd., Detroit) June 24, from 4 to 7 p.m. The photos were all taken as part of a photography class led by Dr. Rebecca Cheezum, assistant professor of Health Sciences at Oakland University.
In the class, tenants learned both film and digital techniques and were encouraged to develop and listen to their own “voice” in the work. Participants discussed each photo they took with their classmates.
Shane Hardeman and Lucretia Gaulden both have work in the show.
Hardeman’s father was a portrait photographer, who developed photos in the basement dark room of their family home. Now his son, fully grown, is following in his footsteps, adding his own unique visual touches to portrait photography by posing his subjects against dynamic real world backdrops.
“(The project) has given me a better perspective on life,” Hardeman says, relating how photos can capture both the good and bad parts of life. Capturing life’s difficulties, blight, devastation on film, however, can provide a catalyst for change, he says.
Lucretia Gaulden’s favorite photo she took was of the full moon on a dark night. “It seemed like you could just reach up and grab it,” she says.
The class was an exciting opportunity for Gaulden who had no prior photography experience. Since being introduced to photography, Gaulden says: “It seems like the rest of the world is so much fuller and so much brighter. Now I see things in such a different light, because now I have a better picture of what I want to take and how I want to take it.”
The exhibit is free and open to the public. Visit www.nso-mi.org, or call 313.961.4890 for more information.