A story about pictures, told in pictures
Let’s start this story with The Big Camera, a 10-foot by 6-foot camera and miniature darkroom housed in a trailer and co-owned by Anna Lawrence, Donna Moore and John Allen. The Big Camera was initially funded by an Ann and Steve Bailey Opportunity Grant about two years ago. The three artists/photographers take their portable camera and equipment to area schools, after-school clubs and community groups to teach kids about photography, its analog past, and what happens when light comes through a lens, whether in a camera or an eyeball.
Moore and Lawrence are also board members of A1LabArts, a gallery and collaborative art space in Emory Place. Moore applied for and received an Arts Build Communities grant from the Tennessee Arts Commission to create Community Faces, a project that would allow them to take oversized pictures of community members and display them at outdoor venues around town.
“We thought, ‘What a great time it is in Knoxville, our community is growing and getting more diverse, and we didn’t know all of our neighbors, even in Emory Place,” said Lawrence. “We thought it would be a way for the community to get to know people. We used one common curtain as a backdrop to unify the images.”
“Initially people wanted to know why we were taking their picture,” she said. “It was hard. People are so distrustful at the moment. But when we assured them there was no agenda – no political motivation, no religious motivation, just a way to see the people surrounding you every day -- people thought it was cool.”
Lawrence and Sara Blair McNally shot faces at Vine Middle Magnet School (art teacher Atha Bayiates is also involved in the project) and Dragonfly Aerial Circus (McNally, an A1 co-director, is involved there). Eventually it expanded to include employees and patrons at Wild Love Bakehouse, Crafty Bastard Brewery, K Brew, Central Filling Station and other businesses in the vicinity of Central, Broadway and Fifth Avenue. They also shot faces in Blaine, where Moore lives, because our community isn’t strictly urban.
Lawrence credits Jon Laster and the folks at Knoxville Blue Print for giving them a great deal on printing the 3-foot by 3-foot images. Several of their employees also had photos taken. “We couldn’t have done what we did without Knoxville Blue Print,” Lawrence said. “They made it happen on a much larger scale that it could have without them.”
In all, they shot 175 Community Faces.
Once the photos were printed, it was time to display them. You’ll see them in several locations in the Central-Broadway-Emory Place area, including A1, Crafty Bastard, Vinyard Floor Covering and Architectural Antics. A one-day installation lined the fence at Central Filling Station.
The photos are hung using wallpaper paste, and they are intended to be “long-term, temporary installations,” Lawrence said. “We think the paste will start decaying in about a month or so.”
It was a big effort for a small team, and they are grateful for the people who helped along the way: Booder Barnes, Bob Thompson, Alhen Drillich, Alex Garlough, Carolyn Corley, Stacy Jacobs, Lance King, Jennifer Corum, Rachel Lawrence, Emily Bivens and fellow A1LabArts members. “There were others that offered us a cold drink, popped in to install for an hour, or cheered us on: we are grateful to all of them, too. Much love to our families for their encouragement and patience during the past two weeks!” Lawrence said.
What’s next for the Big Camera and Community Faces?
The photographers would love to continue the work, but need support and funding from businesses who want to share the joy of art and an outreach to the community.