September '02 Cover Story

 

Puffin Foundation:

Takes it to the streets and schools

 

By Michele Spring-Moore

 

 

In September the Puffin Foundation's gallery in the Harrison West neighborhood is going global with an exhibit of work by 10 street photographers, while the Columbus director of the foundation works on several community projects closer to home.

"Taking It to the Streets," which includes images from China, Cuba, Morocco, the United States, and several other countries, opens September 13 at Puffin, A Place, 378 West 1st Ave. Curated by Puffin Foundation webmaster Marko Jokic, the exhibit first opened at the Print Space gallery in New York City in June.

Jokic invited colleagues who had a body of work from their home countries or travels in other nations to submit photographs for the show, and the result is an interesting, sometimes haunting look at the contemporary global urban landscape and its inhabitants, from dancers in Riga, Latvia, to solo figures on flooded streets in Mexico, to dozens of bicyclists in China.

Jokic, a native of Mexico who graduated from the Parsons School of Design and is a street photographer himself, says the genre differs from other forms of photography in its immediacy. "Street photography is documentary in a way," he says. "Most other photography is staged; this is capturing real life, real places. It's an attempt to capture the essence of a place without interfering."

Photographer and illustrator Trystan Bates takes this idea of spontaneous documentary seriously. In a statement about his work in Morocco, he says, "From the rugged terrain skirting the urban cities, to the mosaic-adorned archways of Marrakech, I found myself completely overcome… and pestered by the ever-growing need to document life here as accurately and unnoticed as possible. I was so concerned about photographing without the subjects noticing, that many of my hours were spent either crouching on the ground, or hiding throughout the streets waiting for a perfect moment."

One of Bates' photographs shows his subject from a heroic angle, and a trick of the light gives this man on the street an ethereal, almost otherworldly, appearance; he seems to levitate more than stroll.

Leticia Velasquez uses her own facility with light to illuminate subjects in Greater Los Angeles, some expected &endash; vehicles, underpasses, solo travelers - and some contrary to L.A. stereotype, such as a herd of cattle. Like half of the photographers whose work appears in "Taking It to the Streets," Velasquez returns to the land of her birth at least once a year and captures images there. Velasquez, from Corona, Calif., says the landscape of the Greater L.A. area reflects the people with whom she grew up.

 

Picturing people's daily lives

Other participants have used photography to examine a culture different from their own - and in Amanda Hickman's case, to see how the United States has affected the culture. Hickman has visited Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos twice in the last several years as a freelance editor for "Indochina Interchange," the newsletter of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, which evolved from a program of the American Friends Service Committee begun in the early 1970s during the U.S. war in Indochina. (The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization which includes people of various faiths who are committed to social justice.)

Hickman attended and wrote reports on two conferences of non-governmental organizations in Indochina that covered sustainable development issues such as agriculture, health care, education, and children and adults working and living on the streets. The first conference was "a crash course in development," she says.

Taking people's photographs as she traveled, and sitting down to have tea and speak with them, offered Hickman a view beyond the statistics and studies she heard at the conferences - "what it means when whole generations in a region are dealing with congenital deformities caused by Agent Orange, what it means when there's no trade agreement with the United States.

"Sitting in a boat on the Mekong [River] made it more present - watching an older man and a young man pulling a bomb out of the river." Many people in Vietnam still find and dismantle old ordnance from the U.S. war and sell the parts as scrap, she says, and many are injured when the mines explode in the process.

Hickman's photographs depict more peaceful scenes on the muddy river and the streets - a woman on a boat, people working, a procession carrying umbrellas through a village on a rainy morning. Her strong portraits of Indochinese daily life belie her shy beginnings as a photographer: the first time she went to Cambodia, Hickman says, she took more touristy snapshots.

"I was afraid to take pictures of people," she says. "That's a really hard thing to do, because it is very invasive." Then she decided that asking permission gave her subjects the opportunity to refuse to be photographed. A related problem, Hickman says, is that a camera can act as a barrier between the operator and those she meets.

"In some ways it's a lot more distancing to be taking pictures." For example, she says, she didn't have an opportunity to speak with the woman she photographed on the boat, and so knows nothing of her daily routines, struggles, and joys.

"It was interesting to see the way people structured their day. I was really excited to see people living their lives, and I am here [in New York] too."

Hickman moved to New York City to work as a journalist, and writes stories while traveling, but found that photography helped her tell a more complete story.

"I'm not somebody who's ever seen myself as a photographer," she says. "I see myself as a storyteller and that comes out in a lot of ways. I think some of why

I began to take pictures was because I couldn't put into words what I was seeing."

 

Puffin contributes to "Celebration of Life"

"Taking It to the Streets" is only one of Puffin, A Place's recent projects. The Puffin Foundation was founded in New York state in 1984 to provide local arts organizations and individual artists with seed money to begin and continue projects that educate audiences, address social needs, and foster cross-cultural dialogue. With this in mind, Puffin's Columbus director, Java Kitrick, is launching some new community ventures, and contributing to an ongoing project to cast a sculpture by local artist Alfred Tibor to honor the first African American born in Franklin County and the family who raised him.

Bea Murphy, a westside resident and member of the Franklinton Historical Society and the Hilltop Historical Society, is working with the latter organization to raise $45,000 to cast in bronze the sculpture, which honors Arthur Boke, thought to be the first Black person born in Franklin County, and the Sullivants, the white family who raised him.

According to Murphy's research, Boke's mother, a slave, abandoned him at birth in 1803. Boke's father is believed to have been a surveyor, Arthur Boke, Sr. The infant was rescued by Sarah Sullivant, who nursed him along with one of her own sons, born a few days before Arthur Boke, and the Sullivants raised Boke with their own children. When Boke died in 1841 at the age of 38, he was buried in the family plot in Franklinton Cemetery, and his grave was moved with the rest of the Sullivant graves to Greenlawn Cemetery after its opening in 1848.

Murphy began researching Boke's life in 1997, and made several trips to Greenlawn to try to locate his grave. She got lost in the enormous cemetery a couple of times, asked the staff for help in finding the Sullivant plot, and finally one evening at dusk found Boke's grave.

"I came across this one stone that was toppled, and it was dirty… I got some shaving cream and a cloth from my car and I scrubbed it," Murphy says. "'E' and 'K' emerged, and I said, 'Oh my God, this is Boke!'" Murphy began raising money to have the headstone clean and righted, and found a monument company willing to do the work for a substantially reduced fee. She held bake sales and collected even the smallest donation, including 25 cents from a child.

This is an idea that she, Kitrick, and Columbus sculptor Alfred Tibor hope to expand upon in raising funds for the Boke/ monument. Kitrick says although it's common for corporations to make large donations to such projects, she prefers to ask children and their families to make small contributions to the Tibor sculpture "so they have spiritual ownership of it."

"In New York when the Statue of Liberty needed a new torch, the school-children brought in quarters so the torch could be rebuilt," she says.

The Puffin Foundation is donating $5000 to the fund for Tibor's "Celebration of Life," which will be 11 feet high and have a 5-foot pedestal when completed,

and will probably be located on a site on West Broad Street downtown. The sculpture is a stylized human figure, a parent raising a child to the sky.

Murphy said she fell in love with a prototype of "Celebration of Life" when she visited Tibor's studio in Whitehall. As an adult student in the music program at Capital University in Bexley, she'd seen Tibor's sculpture "Promise for Life" on the front lawn of Trinity Lutheran Seminary and contacted Tibor to see if he'd be willing to donate a piece to honor Arthur Boke and his adoptive family. Tibor agreed to donate his work, so all funds raised will go toward casting the full-sized statue at a foundry in Athens, Ohio.

The sculptor, 82, lost nearly all of his family members in the Holocaust, was drafted into a German labor battalion at age 20, was captured by the Russians, and survived five years in a Siberian war prisoners' camp. In 1956, Tibor and his wife and brother escaped their native Hungary; Tibor carried their son on his back, and his infant daughter was drugged to keep her from crying and alerting guards as they fled across the border at 2 a.m.

He and Murphy agree that the Sullivants' adoption of Arthur Boke is a love story that needs to be told.

"Alfred said it touched his heart, the story, because he said it was so human," Murphy says. "Sarah [Sullivant] could see, here was a helpless baby, and she nursed him, Arthur, right along with William. It was a great act of love."

 

Sunshine on a Rainy Day

Another effort to move Puffin, A Place beyond the gallery is putting books into the hands of Columbus children. Recently the Puffin Cultural Forum in Teaneck, N.J. donated 2000 copies of Kara Finds Sunshine on a Rainy Day to children in the Teaneck public schools. The book was written by African-American journalist Caroline Brewer, who began the project as an inspirational poem immediately after September 11, 2001. The 33-page book tells how 10 adults, including Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez, Gandhi, and Sitting Bull, overcame adversity and led movements for change, and includes a glossary and guides for parents and teachers.

Puffin is donating 2000 copies of Brewer's book to the Columbus schools this fall, and Kitrick is planning to bring the author here for talks and book signings in schools. Kitrick is also working on book redistribution efforts &endash; perhaps a performer in a giant puffin costume visiting schools in higher-income areas and collecting from the children books to donate to students in poor neighborhoods.

Allowing children to take books home and keep them is important, says Kitrick, because many poor children fear checking out library books because of the possibility of losing them and incurring fines.

"Children are very fearful of losing money, and they don't all get the opportunity to read books," she says.

Another Puffin literary contribution this fall will be the initiation of an open mic at the gallery as part of the 2002-2003 "Pictures Without Words, Words Without Pictures" series. Kitrick says she wants the open mic to supplement others locally, such as the Poetic Fusion series at the Columbus Museum of Art. p

 

"Taking It to the Streets" will be at Puffin, A Place through October 18. The gallery will be open on Fridays from 5 to 8 pm and Saturdays from 1 to 6 pm. For more information call 291-1740 or 258-2100.

To view the photographs on the Internet, visit www.PuffinFoundation.org; click on "Puffin Cultural Forum," then "Gallery."

q Tax-deductible donations to the sculpture project can be sent to: Hilltop Historical Society Arthur Boke Sculpture Fund, Attn: Bea Murphy, 2300 W. Broad St., Columbus, OH 43204.