A photograph and video exhibit on display at WKU’s Mass Media and Technology Hall is dedicated to documenting the stories of those who live in Owensboro and Daviess County.
Owensboro: An Old River City Discovers New Life features 40 photographs and 21 video narratives. It’s the work of those who participated in the 38th annual Mountain Workshops, a one-week hands-on workshop led by the WKU School of Journalism and Broadcasting's photojournalism sequence.
For five days in October a group made up of both student and professional photojournalists made their way to Owensboro to find interesting people and stories that could be told through still and video images.
WKU Photojournalist-in-Residence Josh Meltzer, who helps direct the Mountain Workshops, met WKU Public Radio’s Kevin Willis at the gallery to talk about how some of the images came to life.
Heidi and Kelsey
The first photograph that greets you upon entering the gallery features a woman holding a little girl’s hand as they walk together down a school hallway. The girl is visibly upset, and appears to be close to breaking down into tears. The woman looks like she’s speaking to the girl in a reassuring and calming tone.
"This is a woman named Heidi Givens, who is teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing in the Daviess County and Owensboro city school systems,” explains Meltzer. “She actually drives all day--she goes to about eight or nine schools a day. She does individual work with students of different hearing and hearing loss abilities.”
“So this pre-schooler, Kelsey Gleason, is walking down the hall. They met in the cafeteria to work on their lesson of the day.”
“I love the body language between the teacher--who has kids of her own and definitely knows how to work with them--and the child as she is being consoled.”
Meltzer says Kelsey was having a good time working on a computer lesson when she was pulled out of class by Givens. That was at least part of the reason why the little girl became so upset.
Meltzer adds that Kelsey eventually calmed down and enjoyed working on Givens’ iPad during their lesson together.
“I think this showcases some of the little moments that we try to capture,” says Meltzer. “The look on the girl's eyes, the pouty lip--this is the quintessential documentary storytelling picture that has so much right in the heart of it.”
“That's really the heart of what we're trying to get at with our visual storytelling workshop. We're trying to get the participants to understand how to make still images or video images that convey stories.”
Surrounded By Relatives by Leah Voss
Meltzer says one of his favorite photographs in the exhibit captures a moment in the life of a family inside their home. A woman is sitting on a couch holding a baby, and children are spread out along the floor playing and doing school lessons.
“I called the refugee and immigration services of Owensboro, and they referred me to an Owensboro family. Owensboro, like Bowling Green, has a large Burmese refugee population.”
“This was a family that had recently arrived. One of the neat things about this is that when the (workshop participants) pull names out of a hat for their stories, many of them within minutes are on the scene shooting something.”
“In this case, Leah Voss pulled this assignment and literally within minutes was in the doctor's office with this family. A couple of the kids were getting their shots.”
“(Leah) dealt with a 100% language barrier with this family. She had a translator a little bit the first day, but worked the entire rest of the week basically using non-verbal communication, and was able to get some really nice moments with the family.”
“One of the things that's important to Jeanie (Jeanine Adams-Smith, WKU Journalism and Broadcasting Professor) and I when we we're looking to find the stories is making sure that we're accurately covering the community in terms of diversity of all different types.”
“You can see next to this picture (of the Burmese family) is a picture of a girl getting her first rifle—a pink rifle--at one of the outdoor sporting shops. The next picture is of a farm family, the next one is of a veterinarian, and the next one is of a kitchen.”
Meltzer says presenting a variety of images from a community is important, and that the Mountain Workshops participants take very seriously the idea that they’re responsible for conveying as many angles of the area they’re covering as possible.
The WKU Photojournalist-in-Resident says it’s a great feeling when residents learn more about their community through the Mountains Workshops photos and videos. For example, Meltzer says, some Owensboro-Daviess County residents who see the photos may not realize there is a growing Burmese refugee population in their region.
101 Years Of Love by Emily Rhyne
Another photograph in the exhibit features a woman sitting at a table and praying before she enjoys a meal.
“This is a picture of Alma Montgomery, who is 101 years old,” says Meltzer. “I actually interviewed her, and she's sharp as a tack.”
“Her faith is very important to her. She's Catholic, and Owensboro is a big Catholic community. This picture is important for Alma because of her own religion, but it's also important for the community since there's such a large Catholic community there.”
Meltzer says some of the simple details captured inside Montgomery’s retirement home help explain the individual featured in the photograph.
“I look around the photo and I see some of the details that work for this portrait. It looks like she has that kind of rubber fruit on the table that my grandmother always had, and the coffee cup, and the simple plate of food with the slice of bread.”
“The moment is just a few minutes--it's a fleeting moment in a way. But when it's captured like this you start to learn a little bit more about her, and you start to get a feeling for who she is as a character.”
“To me, that's what a good portrait does. It's not only a picture of a person. It's an encapsulation of that person's character and who they are.”
Owensboro: An Old River City Discovers New Life is on display at the Mass Media and Technology Hall gallery until Dec. 18.
Parking is available in the Chestnut Street lot after 4:30 pm during the weekdays and all day Sunday.
Gallery hours are:
Sunday: 3:00 pm—9:00 pm
Monday-Wednesday: 9:00 am—9:00pm
Thursday-Friday: 9:00 am—5:00 pm
You can see many of the photographs and video stories that make up the exhibit, and learn more about the Mountain Workshops program, here.