Change starts with one vision

Anthony Edwards / Staff Photo  People gather at the Chaffee Art Center in Rutland for Project VISION’s monthly meeting, where they celebrated the Photo Voice Project.

Anthony Edwards / Staff Photo
People gather at the Chaffee Art Center in Rutland for Project VISION’s monthly meeting, where they celebrated the Photo Voice Project.

By Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli  |  Correspondent.

The vision of one can become the vision of many. And that’s the goal of Rutland’s Photo Voice Project, now on display at the Chaffee Art Center on South Main Street.

“The key was the diversity of the makers,” photographer Donna GoodHart said about the nine photographers who shared their vision of the northwest neighborhood through images. “The power of images can change people’s perspectives.”

On Thursday afternoon, Project VISION’s monthly meeting was held at the Chaffee to highlight nearly 100 images documenting life in a community that’s had its share of crime, blight and hard times.

“Before I started, I believed our neighborhood was disgraceful,” Evangeline Lapre wrote in her artist’s statement. “I thought there’d be fear in each step I took outside my door. I came into this project being scared of my neighborhood, but now I’m not. I saw beauty and happiness … The main thing people focus on is what they see and hear. If the image of the neighborhood would change, our reputation would, too.”

The Photo Voice Project grew out of NeighborWorks of Western Vermont, and Cohen brought it to Project VISION, GoodHart said.

“Last fall, eight people went to the Community Leadership Institute to learn about revitalization,” said Mary Cohen, director of NeighborWorks’ Home Ownership Center, adding that this sparked some brainstorming, and the Photo Voice Project was born.

The project was then funded by a $2,000 NeighborWorks America national grant and a $1,000 Project VISION Pearl Grant. The money paid for cameras, matting and framing.

The project, according to the mission statement, gives a neighborhood’s residents the chance to record, reflect and relate what is important to them about where they live and the everyday matters that mean the most.

Capt. Scott Tucker of the Rutland City Police, leader of Project VISION, said the Photo Voice Project is a research initiative that enables data collection and sharing in a creative way.

“We wanted to get information from people in the neighborhood,” Cohen said during the meeting Thursday. “There are different perspectives in that neighborhood. It gives a voice to people who live there.”

Cohen said it took the efforts of many to choose photographers and to put the project together. And she thought guidance of a photographer might help.

“I emailed Donna [GoodHart] and asked if she could donate an hour of her time,” she said. “Donna said, ‘Why don’t we meet every week?’”

And so started the bonding of the northwest neighborhood photographers and a project that chronicles life in a community that will live on after the Chaffee exhibit, at the Vermont Folk Life Center, starting Aug. 14.

GoodHart, who has owned a portrait studio in Rutland for 23 years, met with the photographers each week, and they looked at the photos to discuss things like composition, color harmony and perspective.

In the end, out of hundreds of photos, they each had to choose 10 for the Chaffee exhibit.

GoodHart met with each photographer individually.

“They chose their cropping, color or black and white, matted or not,” she said. “They knew from the beginning they would need to do an artist statement, and it was my vision that their images would represent their statement. They were helping document the true face of their community.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, Project VISION chairman Joe Kraus talked about GoodHart’s efforts.

“Mary asked Donna for an hour and she gave hundreds,” he said. “This is a wonderful example of [what happens] when people work together, Mary had a great idea, she went to Sherri Durgin-Campbell to help recruit photographers, and then we needed someone to inspire them and do magical things with cameras and put it all together.”

The photographers are Sherri Durgin-Campbell, a mediator; Sharon Davis, an alderwoman and nurse; Elivia and Evangeline Lapre, sisters and middle school students; Stacie Mincher, artist; Cindy Murray, teacher; Nick Santoro, sculptor; Dylan Smith, a junior at Rutland High School; and James Tibbits, who lives at Dismas House.

While the project was started to help inform leaders and residents about a community from the point of view of those who live in that community, the bonds that formed among the photographers were strong. GoodHart said they held a framing party at her studio, Expressions by Donna, where they all framed their works together.

“Before this project, I would walk around my neighborhood with little to no care for the people, or things in it. To me, it was just another place that I had to reside in … During that first week, I took a bunch of pictures, but still felt no interest. When we came together to share our pictures though, I had a change of heart,” Dylan Smith wrote in his artist’s statement.

“I’d have to say it was them [fellow photographers] that inspired me to embrace the neighborhood in which I live. I hope that the pictures the nine of us took inspire everyone else to find the beauty within their neighborhoods as well, because that sense of community is something that one should be able to cherish, rather than despise.”