Syracuse’s ArtRage Gallery presents 12 years of the South Side Photo Walk

Over the past 12 years, The Stand, a nonprofit newspaper focusing on Syracuse’s South Side, has sponsored a series of community photo walks designed to highlight and celebrate neighborhood life. The walks, which began with a group of eight people in 2010, have generated a bank of some 11,000 images. And now, a small portion of that portfolio, 51 photos, is on display at the ArtRage Gallery in a retrospective exhibit.

The show, entitled “From Where We Stand: Photographs from The Stand’s Annual South Side Photo Walk,” presents work by 45 photographers from various backgrounds. They include neighborhood residents and college students, individuals who’ve taken photos for a living and those with little expertise in using a camera, people intrigued by the notion of a photo walk and others interested in a specific topic such as architecture.

At ArtRage, various images appear in the exhibition: portraits, photos devoted to urban geography, a few shots linked to community-wide issues, and what’s best described as photography of the moment.

For starters, an image taken by Marilu Lopez-Fretts portrays a man from a side profile, emphasizing his smile, tufts in his beard, the lettering on his cap, And in 2018 Annaliese Perry photographed a grandmother sitting on a porch, between her grandson and a family dog. She embraces each of them. To the right, there’s a bike on its side.

In addition, Jordan Larson’s portrait of Clifford Menife at home has two layers: the subject sitting on a couch; a series of family-related photos on the wall behind him. The interplay of generations is direct, tangible.

In various walks, typically staged during the month of July, photographers depict twin sisters on bicycles, local businesses such as the La Solucion auto repair shop at 2401 S. Salina St., and several barbershops. Look for Todd Michalek’s photo in which a barber cuts hair in the background while three children sprawl out on a couch in the foreground.

And the show presents photos with dual agendas: capturing the scene itself and communicating a larger theme. Thus, Jenn Grzyvinski’s image swings from a lifeguard at the Wilson Park swimming pool across I-81 to buildings on the campus of the SUNY Upstate Medical University campus. There’s a sense of the highway as urban divider.

In addition, two images depict community memorials. Reggie Seigler’s photo captures a pole wrapped by teddy bears, a large paper heart, and other items. Such displays are typically mounted to commemorate a child or teenager, conveying deep-seated emotions.

A second memorial, photographed by Keith Waldron, depicts Clifford Ryan, founder of OG’s against Violence, kneeling next to a tree. It was planted many years ago when Ryan’s son was killed in gun-related violence.

Elsewhere, Bob Gates’ photo portrays three children on swings at a playground. One sits still, the second begins to move, and a third flings himself in the air, hanging on by one arm. Janice Carroll, meanwhile, captures three subjects– a diaper-clad toddler posed to run about, a young man coming to bring him back, a small dog sprinting down the sidewalk.

The images, and text written by Ashley Kang, director of The Stand, trace the event’s evolution from a single walk involving eight people to multiple walks on the South Side to 2020 when the COVID epidemic made group outings untenable. The walk became citywide, with individual photographers submitting images. They depict a statue of Ernie Davis, the first African American football player to win the Heisman Trophy, at Syracuse University; several demonstrations protesting the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer; umbrellas positioned in the Thornden Park amphitheater. Michael John Heagerty placed them there as part of an ad hoc public-art project.

The walk changed to a hybrid format in 2021, but its mission remained much the same. It’s based on documenting urban neighborhoods, encouraging interactions between people unlikely to encounter each other on a summer day, embracing the principle of inclusion. In an April 6 presentation at ArtRage, Kang spoke of loaning out cameras to people without one and offering workshops run by veteran photographers. The Stand has also hired residents knowledgeable about the South Side to act as tour guides for a morning.

Beyond that, Kang talked about all that’s involved with organizing a photo walk. Participants include herself, The Stand’s director and an employee of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University; Newhouse students; and a corps of volunteers and community partners.

Moreover, the photo walks don’t exist in isolation. Each is a companion to The Stand’s print editions and other projects. Recent issues have covered topics ranging from a father’s strong relationship with his children to Syracuse Build’s Pathways to Apprenticeship program, from teenagers adjusting to life during a pandemic to issues faced by refugees from Afghanistan who’ve resettled in Syracuse.

A single exhibition isn’t going to explore every aspect of the photos walks, but that’s not the goal of “From Where We Stand.” Rather, it expresses and embodies two fundamental positions: An urban neighborhood is more than crime statistics and census data; it’s a place of struggle, striving, and joy. Second, the images both sample everyday life and tell larger stories.

“From Where We Stand” is on display through May 14 at ArtRage, 505 Hawley Ave. The gallery is open from two to six p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and from noon to four p.m. on Saturdays. For more information, call 315-218-5711 or access www.artragegallery.org.

Carl Mellor covered visual arts for the Syracuse New Times from 1994 to 2019. He continues to write about artists and exhibitions in the Syracuse area.

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