November 29, 2010

Students document communities through photos

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- An opening reception later this week will feature area communities as seen through the lenses of Southern Illinois University Carbondale students.

Fourteen students in the Department of Cinema and Photography spent the past four months intertwined in the activities of their chosen towns. The process began with students introducing themselves to village officials and others in their selected communities, after which they became involved in the town “in every aspect, small and large, individual and communal,” said Daniel Overturf, a professor in the Department of Cinema and Photography.

The students’ work is part of an exhibit that begins today (Nov. 29) and runs through Dec. 10, in the north wing of the University’s Communications Building. An opening reception is set for 4-6 p.m., on Wednesday, Dec. 1.

Media Advisory

Reporters, photographers and camera crews are welcome to attend the exhibition reception. For more information on the project contact Professor Daniel Overturf, Department of Cinema and Photography, at 618/713-3643, or by email at

This is the seventh, semester-long “Small Town Documentary” course. Overturf has taught the biennial course since its start in 1996. A Flickr site that features photos from 2010 and previous classes is at

The communities that comprise the 2010 project are Brookport, Cambria, Colp, Dowell, Elizabethtown, Kaskaskia, McClure, Mounds, Olive Branch, Orient, Rosiclare, Schuline, Tamaroa, and Zeigler.

The projects began prior to Labor Day, and the bond students form with the communities, along with the interpersonal skills they learn through the experience, are important. Students not only learn about the communities and their residents, but also about the region as a whole, their own discipline, and themselves, Overturf said.

“While they are learning they are actually becoming more expert in the art of appreciating life beyond themselves,” he said. Overturf added that in many instances, the students’ work “will be the longest-running project many students will have throughout their career. Such long-term assignments are very rare in photography.”

While the course demands that students become somewhat outgoing and socially open to the people they meet, the acceptance and cooperation of people in the participating towns is the “absolute critical factor,” Overturf said.

“If it wasn’t for all of the very helpful and open-hearted people in the towns, well, this course could not exist,” he said.

Overturf, who is originally from Peoria, earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from SIUC, and has been with the Department of Cinema and Photography since 1990. While students rely upon him for a base of knowledge about almost any town they choose, Overturf said he is soon left behind by the students “as they become much more expert about their towns and the people they meet.”

Once that happens, “I have the best job in the world,” Overturf said.

“I go to class and listen to stories and look at photographs and give out advice on editing and organization,” he said. “In return I hear some really amusing stories, some very touching and others that are rather frightening, to be truthful. Still, the students bring in their notes and their stories to go along with the photographs and the rest of us get to hear about the week’s worth of adventures in each town. It is quite an experience.”