At the end of October, local artist and Columbia College photography major Deanna J. Smith left a cardboard box on a bench at the Logan Square’s Centennial Monument.
The box held 12 disposable cameras and flyers reading “Community Art Opportunity.” They instructed passersby to grab a camera, photograph life in the neighborhood, and then return the film for Smith to develop for an upcoming installation.
In the following weeks, she frequented the monument to check on her box, securing it under the arm of its bench or replacing it when the wind was strong. She updated the project’s followers on the status of the cameras via Instagram, steadily encouraging them to return any and all used film.
Smith, who first learned to shoot and develop film at an After School Matters program through Chicago Public Schools, has long held a fascination for the residents of her neighborhood. As a Wilbur Wright Community College student, she pondered what her fellow commuters had dropped outside the blue line station, and expanded this thought to a photographic study on her neighbors through the trash they left behind. This became a theme she explores in her art: “remnants of people [as] a marker of place.”
As Smith’s technical abilities and themes grow, she continues to explore body, place, time, and her neighborhood. “Even though [my photographs] might not be blatantly pertaining to the community of Logan Square… it’s part of me, so I guess it’s part of the art naturally,” Smith said.
Now, for a class called “Photo Social Practice” at Columbia, Smith is setting out to directly involve her neighbors in representing themselves and their community.
“I want to put it in the hands of the people and, just be a conduit,” she said. “I have the skills to develop film, I have the resources to get cameras. [I want to] share that with people who don’t have those resources and get people involved in art-making.”
As someone who studied at both a Community College and an art school, the photographer understands the role accessibility and community play in people’s relationship to the creative process. The smaller program at Wright College allowed her to display work on the walls and receive important advice from her professors. These possibilities were present — but harder to find — at Columbia, where “there are more hoops to jump through.”
Smith’s project intentionally removes barriers to art participation. The crux of the installation is accessibility and connection, and her choice of venue is meant to provide that. Anyone can visit this public park, rather than having to enter a “specific building where [they] may feel more welcomed or not welcomed.”
The final installation, completed on December 8, includes the developed and printed images participants returned. Smith suspended them from trees surrounding the familiar neighborhood eagle in the hopes that, through the snapshots, participants and viewers will discover new perspectives on Logan Square.
“People tend to stay within their own little pods, and talk to people that only they know,” she said. “I was trying to find a way to get people to look around at this neighborhood and pay attention to things they might not pay attention to [and] connect people with each other within the neighborhood.”
But if you don’t feel like getting out of your pod during this time, the prints will also be shared on Instagram as a virtual gallery.
Featured photo: Jaley Bruursema