April 12, 2010
Photography students capture Cairo’s past, present
CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Photographs capture a moment that can easily fade from memory.
Students in two Southern Illinois University Carbondale photography classes are working to preserve Cairo’s past and present with a project that organizers hope assists Cairo’s Web presence and economic development.
Twenty-five students have fanned out across the community over the past month, shooting not only the town’s more historical venues, including the Custom House Museum, Magnolia Manor, and the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, but also the seemingly commonplace, everyday features that people and time could easily overlook.
“Cairo has such a rich history and distinctive look like all river towns, that I felt we were really losing something of the visual component of the town,” said Daniel Overturf, an associate professor in the Department of Cinema and Photography.
Carbondale resident Andy Sisulak was working with the Cairo Chamber of Commerce to build a Web presence, and approached Overturf and Assistant Professor Antonio Martinez about using students from two upper-level photography classes for the project.
Overturf said he was excited about the possibilities because the project assists a local community and also helps students, many of whom will graduate in May, on a variety of different levels.
“It’s a real educational opportunity for them because they have a chance to work with somebody who needs photographs for different purposes,” Overturf said. Students can build up their individual portfolios and also create photographs for use on the Web site and various other projects, Overturf said.
Students may shoot whatever sparks their interest. Content will include historic buildings, parks, businesses, churches and other parts of the town.
The exhibition, “Cairo: The Confluence of Photography, Film and Town,” is from 2 to 4 p.m., Saturday, April 24, at the Custom House Museum. Proceeds from the sale of 25 framed images included in the exhibit will go to continuing preservation and restoration efforts in the town.
Building up an image bank is important for communities, particularly in this digital age, Overturf said. A photograph taken in 1973 of an ordinary street scene along Commercial Avenue in Cairo might not seem awe-inspiring. However, 37 years later, the same photograph allows people to reflect on the businesses, automobiles and events of the era.
The project is also a reflection of current trends in photography with digital cameras, Overturf said.
“A lot of people making these very kinds of unspectacular photographs with a digital camera these days may hit the delete button and it is gone forever,” he said. “Not only will it not be in the bottom of a box, it will just not be there, ever. This is a way to celebrate the ordinary as you look forward to its use in the future as not being thought of nearly as ordinary, but rather a document of the time.”
Monica Smith, president of the Cairo Chamber of Commerce, expects the students’ work will be a positive public relations tool for the city.
“It’s going to give us a tool to work with that will enable us to do a past, present and future synopsis of what there was and what there is now,” she said. The Web site, at www.cairoillinois.org, gives people access to old photographs “and enjoy the history that is here.”
“We are very excited about it, “ she said. “We are excited about working with SIUC and all of the students, and are wondering what they have come up with. We have seen them all over town.”
Several groups, organizations and businesses are involved with the project, including SIUC’s College of Mass Communication and Media Arts, the Department of Cinema and Photography, Cairo Public Library, Cairo Custom House Museum, Capaha Bank, SMART (Shawnee Mass Area Rapid Transit) and the Ace of Cups in Cairo. SMART is donating its bus service to take students and members of the University to Cairo for the reception, Overturf said. In addition, Canon USA donated the printing paper and ink for the project. Brian Matsumoto, an SIUC Cinema & Photography alumnus, is a Canon technical representative and spearheaded the donation, Overturf said.