Summer Vacation Stories: Students show snapshots of North Adams life

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NORTH ADAMS — If you live in the Northern Berkshire region, "Monuments to the People of North Adams," a photography exhibit on view now through Sept. 22 at the MCLA Design Lab, may be filled with familiar faces and places.

The project features both images created by Jamie Diamond, this summer's DownStreet Art visiting artist, and also the work of a group of Northern Berkshire students who took part in a free summer photography workshop with Diamond.

Combining street photography taken with disposable film cameras, along with video interviews and sculptural concepts, the artist facilitated for the students an exploration of "everyday people and places of North Adams."

"I think this was a really awesome idea that brings in a lot of new viewpoints," said Mount Greylock Regional High School senior, Alex Babcock, a practicing photographer who helped Diamond facilitate the workshop for youths, who ranged in age from 8 to 14.

The other participants included: Elijah Archer, Brady Clark, Zaid Barnes, Joaquin Barnes, Faith Motta and Hope Motta.

The students got a chance to look at and ask questions about Diamond's work photographing individuals and groups of people she met while walking the perimeter of the campus of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.

Diamond, in her artist's statement, says of her encounters and images: "In memory of these daily encounters, recorded in a photograph, I erected a series of hypothetical monuments. Working in the vernacular language of snapshot photography, the images are blown up to life-size proportions and presented as carnival cutouts, the faces of the anonymous subjects removed, ostensibly to be included in a portrait exhibition inside the museum."

Her images fill a wall on one side of the exhibit, the cutouts she created photographed staged on city sidewalks but without occupants looking through the holes where faces would peer through. On the opposite wall, the students offer in their portraits, a closer look at the people who represent the city, from municipal leaders to shop owners, museum visitors to other students. Additionally, the exhibit includes a storefront window filled with dozens of 4-by-6-inch prints of candid photos the students took on their excursions.

Prior to heading out to make portraits of people and take other street shots, the students as a group came up with a list of potential questions they could ask the people they encountered. Some of the questions included prompts like, "If you're a tourist, why do you come here?" and "What inspires you?" and "If you live here, what would you improve about the town?"

"It was actually pretty cool. I liked that it wasn't just a photography thing," said Joaquin Barnes, 13, a student at the Berkshire Arts & Technology Charter Public School in Adams. He took the workshop with his younger brother, Zaid, 8.

"We got to talk to Barry [Garton, chef-owner] from Brewhaha, and the mayor; people from the historical society and a bunch of different people from out of town," Barnes said.

Faith Motta, 12, got to take the workshop with her sister, Hope, 11. She said she wasn't initially interested in photography, but decided to give it a go anyway.

"It's really surprising to me what you can learn about a lot of people who you didn't know before," said Faith.

She said that while she thought any North Adams resident would be a fan of Mass MoCA, she said she was surprised to find that not everybody does. Faith also said that she was surprised at how people opened up and were candid with her in general, noting that one of her best conversations was with a woman she met at the Cumberland Farms store near the downtown.

Asked if they would change anything about the project, both Joaquin and Faith said they wished they had more time to photograph and interview more people.

For Babcock, who usually works alone, the project opened up to him the process of collaboration.

"All the kids were really happy and it was fun for me to see how excited they were — a bit loud — but excited," he said. "It was cool to see how a bunch of kids randomly coming together, all coming from different experience, could shape something like this."

See more of the students photos from "Monuments to the People of North Adams" here: flickr.com/photos/bcrc/albums/


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