“Before we started, I knew next to nothing about the Black Belt region,” admitted Kasandra Boor, a psychology major and studio art minor.
Boor, with five other students and associate professor of photography Chris Jordan, has been preparing for a research trip to Camden, Alabama, where the group will photograph and interview artists who live in the Black Belt.
The class has spent time training and studying in preparation for work in the field, where they will take portrait photographs of artists, many of whom grew up in the region. The students will also interview and take oral histories of the artists.
Students have been reviewing photography basics and learning techniques of studio lighting and other skills they will put to use while there. They have practiced by taking portrait photos of two art faculty members, learning to set up lighting equipment, building a photo and using artificial and natural light. They’ve also learned more about the Black Belt region itself, reading about its history, as well as researching the artists they will be photographing and interviewing.
“What I enjoyed most is our discussions about how to respect cultural differences and agency. Basically, it is how to best tell accurate stories and respect how you are presenting information about others. I am very excited to keep learning throughout this experience,” said Boor.
This is the second group of students Jordan has brought to the area this year. Students range from experienced photographers to novices, and not all are art majors.
“I’m thrilled to be working with a group of students with a wide range of backgrounds,” Jordan said.
In addition to Boor, students include Aleiah Briggs, studio art major; Sarah Cheshire, MFA student in creative writing; Sam MacDonald, BFA major in photography and digital media; Gordon MacNeil, retired UA professor of social work; and Maddy O’Connor, studio art major.
O’Connor, who is from Florida, said, “I have learned so much, and I feel prepared for the work to come. I have never visited the Black Belt region before, and I’ve always wanted to explore it. I feel like this will be such a positive learning experience for me, and I can’t wait to meet all of the local artists.”
The Black Belt Artist Project is a collaborative initiative between the UA department of art and art history, the nonprofit Black Belt Treasures Cultural Arts Center and Canon Solutions America. A book, exhibition and archive of the materials will be produced from the oral histories recorded and portraits created by the students.
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.