Arts and Entertainment


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Since 2011, United Photo Industries has been showcasing photography from professionals and amateurs alike in a uniquely organized set of galleries called Photoville. It’s free, out in the open, and presents pieces that range from disturbing to inspiring. There are also various book signings, photography workshops, and nighttime movie screenings. For two weeks in August, Photoville premieres its pieces along the waterfront of Brooklyn Bridge Park, where out-of-commission shipping containers are reused to showcase photography and the occasional painting. The containers are all darkly lit and each contains an exhibit that highlights Photoville’s main theme: to “discover” what the media doesn’t say and delve into the implications of the media’s silence.

Besides the shipping containers, what stands out most is the content of the artwork. Each piece addresses problems that, though far from the safe confines of Photoville, are very real. In the photo gallery “Dual Shadows,” visual journalist Jake Naughton follows members of East Africa’s LGBTQ community as they try to escape persecution in their home countries. One subject, Javan, is a 19-year-old transgender woman from Uganda who fled to Kenya to escape abuse, but decided to return to Uganda to set an example. A portrait of Javan reveals a woman clearly exhausted by the oppression brought on her by her country who, despite her suffering, remains defiantly elegant and strong. What makes Javan’s story so dynamic is the contribution of Naughton’s photographs; they include screenshots of death threats via text message, gatherings of other refugees fleeing their countries, and more moments that contribute to the harrowing journeys of people who seem to be a world away but are brought closer through the photographs.

In “China Through Chinese Eyes,” photographers capture the fighting spirit of China’s people in the face of their country’s social, cultural, and economic struggles. A photo by Guo Xianzhong shows a mother trying to calm her son as he suffers from having accidentally taken one of many illegal vaccines released in China over the years. Another photo shows a young man crying of homesickness because he was barred from travelling back to his home province.

There are many exhibits with work that documents the refugee crisis, but “Finding Home,” which follows the lives of three Syrian refugee mothers and their newborn babies, is a standout. Photos taken just minutes after the children were born are hung side-by-side with photos of them years later where they remain just as youthful and innocent-looking despite living in environments devastated by war and conflict. Separation of family is intermingled with the joy of a baby’s first steps. In an excerpt from a documentary on refugee families, a mother banters lightly with her husband as they decide what to name their newborn girl. He insists they name their daughter “Heln” instead of “Helen” because it sounds cooler. This light-hearted content is intermingled with reminders of the brutal situations refugees often find themselves in. At the back of the shipping container, in merely 10 square feet, are a thin mattress, some shoes, and a tiny shelf filled with bare necessities. The resemblance to actual refugee conditions in camps brings an onset of fearful apprehension. However, the photos full of childhood innocence and love remind us that hope can be a powerful thing.

Photoville is more than just a couple of shipping containers pushed together. It’s a place devoted to bringing the kind of content that lies off the beaten path, which usually means subject matter that is not only thought-provoking but challenging to grapple with. One of the first containers visitors see as they walk in is “Charlottesville and Beyond,” a line of portraits of participants at the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally. Among the lineup is a black-and-white photo of Jason Kessler, the organizer of “Unite the Right.” It’s not work that promotes white supremacy or a Nazi mindset; instead, it’s a documentation of history that should not be repeated. None of the photos put the ralliers in a positive or negative light. Beneath each of the portraits is a simple label with the subject’s name, what they do, and who took the photo. Viewers are left to interpret the photos on their own, and because little information is given, are forced to think of the ralliers as actual humans worth hearing out.

Photoville boasts such a large visitorship because it’s always looking to promote thought-provoking content. In many containers, signs are posted warning viewers about violent and graphic images. There is no such thing as family-friendly in a world where blood, sweat, and tears are common occurrences. Photoville strives to present work that doesn’t only follow mainstream media but brings attention to what isn’t deemed “newsworthy.” It alerts viewers to a fast-paced world that needs attention, and the documentation of its history to prevent worse things from happening.