an exhibition of photographs and text created collaboratively by Piedmont Regional Jail inmates and Hampden Sydney College students
April 28 - May 21, 2006
Opening Reception for the Artists
Friday, April 28, 2006
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"Living with Conviction" is a documentary featuring photography and text created by inmates at the Piedmont Regional Jail in Farmville, VA. The exhibition is the result of a semester-long project that occurred in the spring of 2005 between Hampden-Sydney College freshmen and inmates at the jail. The students, freshmen in an honors seminar entitled Social Documentary: Image, Text, and Context, taught pinhole photography to inmates and worked with them in the construction of pinhole cameras and the creation of photographic images and text. Instructors for the Documentary class were Hampden-Sydney College Fine Arts professor, Pam Fox, and the Rhetoric Department’s Professor Claire Deal.
The Honors 101-102 seminar was offered to incoming freshman honor scholars in the 2004-2005 academic year. Hampden-Sydney College participants included Brennan Breeland, Brookhaven, MS; Rob Shrader, Midlothian, VA; Phil Miskovic, Burkeville, VA; Michael Antolini, Washington, WV; David Harp, Staunton, VA; Corey van Vlymen, Natchez, MS; and Carson Gressly, Front Royal, VA.
Professors Fox and Deal began planning the course in the summer of 2005 as participants in a National Endowment for the Humanities Institute. The two professors each brought unique talent and experience to the project and in culmination fashioned an ambitious seminar combining Fox’s photography background with Deal’s background in theatre and rhetoric.
Fox and Deal began by introducing the class to the field of social documentary, exploring its historical significance in the United States, investigating various forms of documentary (photography, theatre, film, etc.) and examining the responsibility of the documentarian to the people with whom she or he works. In the second semester of the course the students put their academic experience to work in the community as they ventured inside the fences of the Piedmont Regional Jail.
Professor Deal describes the fieldwork as an opportunity for students to gain their own personal perspective on documentary. According to Deal, "the experiential component of our year-long course provided students the opportunity to experience the social documentary process for themselves. The readings, discussions, guest lectures, research projects, essays, and oral presentations students experienced in the first semester provided a strong foundation for the work they did in the second semester. As students immersed themselves in the community, they saw firsthand some of the challenges facing documentarians – the same challenges that Walker Evans and James Agee faced doing their work in the Depression Era South and that a theatre artist/ documentarian like Anna Deavere Smith encounters today."
The exhibition features large-scale banner style photographs, manipulated 3 X 5 Polaroid negatives, and smaller pinhole photographs created by the students and inmate photographers. Accompanying the photographs will be text gathered from project participants. Some text will be presented alongside the images, and other text will be woven into the actual images for dramatic effect. The exhibit serves as a unique social documentary much like the ones the students studied throughout the Honors seminar.