November 22, 2016

Students’ exhibit documents life in area communities

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The work of Southern Illinois University Carbondale students to photograph and document residents in local communities will be on display beginning next week. 

Twenty students in a biennial Small Town Documentary Class in the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts have spent the fall semester each chronicling a separate community. The exhibit begins Tuesday, Nov. 29, and runs through Dec. 5, with the work on display in the north wing of the Communications Building, between the School of Journalism and cinema and photography departments.  An opening reception is from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., Nov. 29. 

The exhibit and reception are free and open to the public. 

Daniel Overturf, a professor in the Department of Cinema and Photography, teaches the biennial class. This is the 10th edition of the class since it began in 1996. Students blend geography, sociology, history, contemporary issues, education, art, individual curiosity and photographic skill. The work can be a mix of portraits, every day and unique events, and other notable features of the students’ selected community. The students also research their communities and form attachments to them. They closely monitor community events, including festivals, school and church gatherings, and this year, Election Day activities. 

Yet organized events are not the only areas students look for. The “casual random experiences,” such as men splitting wood in a yard in Karnak to help a neighbor are “almost more fundamental to the education part of class because it reinforces the idea that you simply need to be there, and quite often, that is the difference,” Overturf said. “Some of the most memorable photographs will come from an informal opportunity. Those photographs are sometimes the most telling about the community, and it is an opportunity for students to do their best work.” 

Overturf said he likes students to pursue new communities and unincorporated areas, when possible. Since this is among the largest of the 10 classes, that became even more necessary this year. Some of the 14 new communities featured include Carrier Mills, Freeman Spur, Grand Chain, Jonesboro, Karnak, Maeystown, New Burnside, Oakdale, Olmsted, Thompsonville, and Wamac. 

Prior to 2016, 70 communities and areas within Southern Illinois have been photographed. 

“One of the most satisfying elements of teaching the course is watching students go through the process of putting themselves out there and taking themselves from the comfort and familiarity of university life and being somewhat forced to activate an aspect of their curiosity that might not have been as used in the past,” Overturf said. “Over the course of four months, it’s almost involuntary.” 

Overturf has said that one of the joys in the twice-weekly class is hearing the students’ stories from their journeys. Overturf and invited guests review students’ prints in class. Students are also required to keep journals documenting their experiences as part of their overall course portfolio. 

Students participating in the project, by hometown, year in school, major, and their chosen communities, shown in bold, are: 


  • Alhambra: Miranda Munguia, sophomore, cinema and photography, Thompsonville
  • Aviston: Adam Holbrook, junior, psychology, Oakdale
  • Batavia: Jackson Covey, cinema and photography, Freeman Spur
  • Carbondale: Jenny Johnson, master’s student, mass communications and media arts, Makanda
  • Carterville: Nathan Oestry, senior, cinema and photography, “Old” Carterville
  • Chicago: Branda Mitchell, junior, journalism, Elizabethtown
  • Chicago Heights: Anna Petrelli, senior, cinema and photography, Grand Chain
  • Ellsworth: Zach Gulley, junior, cinema and photography, New Burnside
  • Frankfort: Melissa Wortel, junior, cinema and photography, Jonesboro
  • Irvington: Nate Fortemeyer, master’s student, professional media and media management, Wamac
  • Jonesboro: Eli Scherer, languages, cultures and international studies, Elkville
  • Makanda: Ellen Esling, master’s student, mass communication and media arts, Boskeydell
  • Metropolis: Jay Holland, senior, journalism, Brookport
  • Rockford: Aidan Osborne, communication disorders and sciences, Karnak
  •  West Frankfort: Jacob Wiegand, senior, journalism, Joppa
  • Wheaton: Josh Davis, senior, cinema and photography, Carrier Mills 


  • Savannah: Haley Powell, sophomore, cinema and photography, Waltonville 


  • Kirkwood: Daniel Drier, junior, cinema and photography, Maeystown
  • St. Louis: Marcus Kimbrew, junior, cinema and photography, Colp 


  • Brisbane: Morgan Timms, senior, journalism, Olmsted