November 21, 2011

“Scrappin’ Upstate’ all about stories”

Date published: 05/12/2011
Publication: Troy Record

By Stephen Douglas

Tomorrrow evening, The Sanctuary for Independent Media will debut Brenda Ann Kenneally’s new “Scrappin’ Upstate” gallery show.

Author  Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, who wrote the New York Times bestseller “Random Family,” will join Kenneally for the opening as they discuss the ties that bind their works as well as the many social issues that surround Kenneally’s exhibition and LeBlanc’s book.

Kenneally explained what the the public could expect at the opening: “We’re going to be talking about these personal stories being a reflection of public policies of a given period, and the people telling the stories being a real form of activism. The questions that come up about protecting anonymity when someone wants to tell a story that may deal with minors and impressions of Troy versus the Bronx and urban culture.”

The Sanctuary’s Branda Miller explained the connection between the works. “Both of them do what you call immersive style journalism. After Adrian Nicole LeBlanc wrote “Random Family,” the New York Times gave the photo job to Brenda Ann Daily. Brenda Ann grew up in Upstate New York and she shared some of the same experiences as the Upstate Girls, but she’s become an internationally recognized photojournalist.”

The works meshed together and will become part of the working history of the city. “It’s about young urban people living in poverty in North Troy,” said Miller. “We did an art workshop with the people who were the subject of the photos and they made scrapbooks. They give voice to these photos.”

Kennaelly added, “It just came up that we should do a scrapbook workshop because they like to do digital media. One of the young women who I had been following was doing scrapbooks so that’s why it was in my mind.”

The scrapbooks are now being exhibited in juxtaposition with women from the Victorian era that were taken from the Rennselaer historical society, explained Miller. “You’re looking at the issues of women today living in Troy compared to people of the Victorian era living in Troy. They’re radically different.”

This workshop made the whole project more participatory according to Kennaelly. “Scrapbooking is a very low-tech democratic way to do a project in response to me photographing them and really trying to get their stories down. I needed to give people a little bit of a space to respond to what I was doing and to the pictures of themselves. They were happy to have a record of their life. Some people love photographs. You have photos of everything by using cell phones, small camera.”

The exhibition is something that people really need to see said Kennaelly. “They’re meant to intermingle with my story to contextualize these women and the town of Troy itself with their own words.  We took four people and they wrote their stories and we digitally recorded that. We set it up so that as the story is being told, the pages scroll.”

It wasn’t as easy to complete some scrapbooks. “So far 12 people have finished them,” said Kennaelly. “It took almost three years to get them finished. People move and lose stuff and some memories were too painful to revisit. One girl had bounced around from different foster homes so she had no pictures from her childhood at all.”

Kennaelly sees the project continuing to grow. “We want people to be able to add to this archive. Really we want to partner with a school, and want to really encourage the gathering of information for an alternate take on what they have at a historical  society.”

The main goal is to show what life is like today. “I began to see how powerful these were. When you look at them they’re a reflection of a lot of public policies that affect certain economic and social groups. It’s about the culture,” said Kennaelly.

Properly viewing the exhibition is something that will take time. “It’s something that people really need to go and look at for a couple of hours. Look through all the details of the pages which are blown up large. You have to take a couple of hours to look through the scrapbooks,” said Kennaelly.

It’s worth your time as you’ll be viewing what will become part of the official history of the area. “The Rennselaer County Historical Society has accepted the scrapbooks into their collection so that young women who are growing up now in North Troy are going to be able to go into the historical archives with the Victorian women of Troy,” said Miller.

An opening reception for Scrappin’ Upstate takes place at 7 p.m. on Friday, May 13 at The Sanctuary for Independent Media, 3361 Sixth Ave. (at 101st Street) North Troy. Admission is by donation ($10 suggested, $5 student/low income).

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