Tag: Black Belt 100 Lenses

One shot at a time – Program helps students document life in Black Belt

January 21, 2008

Tuscaloosa News
By Adam Jones

LIVINGSTON | As a child, Destynni Burrell played outside a hunting lodge near her house. She never thought much of it until she was handed a camera and told to document life in the Black Belt.

"It's been there my whole life, but when I finally looked at it, I saw something more," said the Livingston High School student.

Burrell was one of 15 students from seventh to 11th grades in Sumter County selected to participate in "Black Belt 100 lenses," a project aimed to get teenagers to think about their culture and region by taking pictures of whatever they believed showed their life and community.

An exhibit of the pictures opened last week and will be on display at the Webb Gallery at the University of West Alabama through March 1.

The exhibit shows a broad range of life in the rural county near the Mississippi border. One shows a boy getting on the school bus just after dawn. Another is a black and white capture of two abandoned antique gas pumps.

There is a picture of a family gathered around the table at Thanksgiving, the turkey ready for carving. There is a pot of field peas, some not shelled, in black and white. Another shows smiling children in the back pews of their church before or after a service.

"This is an untainted version of what the Black Belt is because chil dren don't sugar coat anything," said Felicia Jones, with the Black Belt

Community Foundation, which sponsored the project along with the University of Alabama.

Elliot Knight, the University of Alabama graduate student who helped lead the project, said each student approached the project differently. Some went out with a more artistic eye hoping to show social issues, while others took shots of potholes or run-down structures in hopes of bringing attention to their community.

For Burrell and a few others, they stuck close to home.

"I went a lot of places to take pictures, but I realized the most beautiful things are near my house," she said. "The pictures they used were just a few feet from my house."

Kate Bonner, a student at Sumter Academy, said she nearly gave up on the assignment, but was encouraged to look harder by her mom.

"I took this as an opportunity to look beyond my little world of cheerleading and sports," she said.

Students were selected through guidance counselors and English teachers, and met with Knight and Whitney Green, arts coordinator for the Black Belt Community Foundation, to go over basic photography this summer. Given point-and-shoot film cameras, the students took color photos and met again to discuss why and how they selected their photos, Knight said. They repeated the project with black and white film.

"A lot of issues start to get exposed, and a diverse group can talk about things that might not normally get talked about," Knight said.

Samory Pruitt, vice president for community affairs at UA, said the project is planned to extend to 12 Black Belt counties. When finished, he envisions an exhibit that tours the state and the photos being bound into a book.

Reach Adam Jones at adam.jones@tuscaloosanews.com or 205-722-0230

"Black Belt 100 Lenses" Reception Scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 17

January 17th, 2008

TUSCALOOSA "” Highway signs and vintage buildings, crop rows and fishing holes are some of the images Sumter County students have captured as part of a Black Belt documentary project.

On Thursday from 4-6 p.m., the fruits of "Black Belt 100 Lenses," a joint project of the Black Belt Community Foundation and The University of Alabama will be on display during a reception at the University of West Alabama's Webb Hall Gallery in Livingston. The public is invited.

The project brings together 7th through 11th grade students to document their communities in still photographs. The Sumter County pilot will be carried to other Black Belt counties, including Bullock, Choctaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Perry, Pickens and Wilcox.

"To celebrate the conclusion of the Sumter County pilot project, an exhibition will be on display at Webb Hall Galley at the University of West Alabama Jan. 17 until March 1," said Christopher H. Spencer, UA adviser for the project.

"Anyone from Alabama "” especially from small towns or who just want to see how photography can have an impact on people and communities "” will want to visit the exhibition", said Whitney Greene, Black Belt Arts Initiative coordinator and co-director of the project. "It's amazing how well these young people have captured the culture and challenges of the Black Belt through their photography."

In addition to the students' work, local artist Linda Munoz will have several works on exhibit. Munoz was commissioned to create artwork using the students' photographs as inspiration. Pieces on display include a quilt and a glass mosaic that represents many of the students' themes.

Elliot Knight, a graduate student in American Studies from Opelika, who is also an intern at the Center for Community-Based Partnerships, has been one of the principal instructors for the project that uses photovoice, a research technique that blends grassroots photography with social science to record and reflect community strengths and problems.

"I have enjoyed working with the students," Knight said. "Their dialogue surrounding the photographs has been as powerful as the photographs themselves."

Contact:   Christopher H Spencer, Associate Director, Community Development at 205-348-7374 or chspencer01@ua.edu.