Our Stories: Women in the Capital Region

Our Stories: Women in the Capital Region

Date posted: 2009-09-11 14:09:00

Image credit: Gail Campbell
Gail Campbell of Albany: "Freedom." I was chained to a Dictaphone for ten years. Twisting and turning my mind to fit into a cage like a trained bird. Acknowledging my disability actually opened the cage door. There is so much more that I can do. My wings were broken, but I have grown new wings.

Victoria Kereszi (MFA candidate) co-taught this 10 week photography and writing course to 12 local women from the Capital Region for the Workforce Development Institute's Art of Labor Photography project.

Our Stories: Women in the Capital Region
(co-sponsored by the Workforce Development Institute and RCHS)
On Exhibit through December 19
Rensselaer County Historical Society

For more info here is a great article about the project from the Albany Times Union (also see below).

Rensselaer County Historical Society
57 Second Street, Troy NY

Please call for open hours and Troy Night Out events

Full Times Union story:
Images speak volumes about women's stories

By JENNIFER E. O'BRIEN, Special to the Times Union
First published in print: Sunday, September 6, 2009

A black-and-white photo of a small, open, wooden music box reveals a round compact and rosary tucked inside and highlights the box's wood grain as well as several small chips here and there. For the photographer, Kathy Breda of Troy, the image is a self-portrait, of sorts.

"I was raised in a family that treasures old photos and mementos," reveals the photo's caption. "They connect me to the past. A little at a time, mom has offered things to me. I remember sitting on her bed, winding up this music box and listening to the tune while she sat at her sewing machine. I finally remember the song. It's called 'Parade of the Wooden Soldiers.'?"

Breda is one of 12 women from the Capital Region who recently took part in Our Story, a free photography and writing course through the Art of Labor program sponsored by the Workforce Development Institute in Troy, in collaboration with the state AFL-CIO and Rensselaer County Historical Society.

Erin Shannon, coordinator for Cultural Programs at Workforce Development Institute, says that the Art of Labor program grew out of the popular "Unseen America" photography and writing program, which was developed by Esther Cohen, former executive director of Bread and Roses, the cultural program component of SEIU 1199.

Our Story grew from a desire to reach out to some of the women who participate in WDI's childcare subsidy program. From there, Shannon says she also reached out to several local agencies, such as Independent Living Centers, YWCA, Unity House and The Women's Building. "Basically, the photography program is about people learning about themselves and expressing their lives through images and the written word."

The participants, says Shannon, came from diverse backgrounds. "We had a really great mix of some women with disabilities, some parents, and they all brought something pretty exceptional to the class."

Breda says that while she did not know exactly what to expect from the course, she figured it would be "right up my alley because I love to take pictures and love to write. … I don't think I really knew what I was getting myself into, but I enjoyed every minute of it."

During the course, participants worked with black-and-white film only, which was initially a bit of challenge for Breda, who says she learned to look through the viewfinder using black-and-white vision.

Each of 10 weeks, participants are given journal questions and asked to shoot a 36-exposure roll. (Cameras, film and developing expenses are all covered by WDI, which also provided child care for those who needed it.) Shannon, who also teaches the course, explains that at each two-hour class, participants looked over their developed prints and selected a few to share and discuss with the class.

Filmmaker Victoria Kereszi teaches the course with Shannon and Melinda McDaniel, and says viewing the images the women shot for a particular theme, such as work, is telling.

"They define or redefine these traditional ideas of what work is." Kereszi adds that the photos improved each week, and in addition to learning technical skills, participants were given a platform to share their stories. Both teachers explain that the weekly class quickly took on a life of its own as participants talked about their photographs as well as their responses to journal questions.

For participant Ifrecak Singh of Albany, the course gave her the opportunity to revisit old passions. A photography major in college, Singh says she hadn't done photography, or writing, in years. "There was almost a seven-year period where I wasn't taking pictures or writing. I was just working and taking care of my family."

Going back behind the lens was initially scary for Singh, who says she struggled for the first few weeks, because she felt she was not truly describing her life in images. Singh gained inspiration from viewing the previous class' show.

"That was the turning point. … Their stories were very personal, they showed family life. … That is where I started, finally." Singh discovered that family was her life's theme as well, and "Maternal," the photo she took of her sister and nieces, now serves as cover image for the exhibit. "I remembered why photography is important to me."

For Shannon, seeing students gain both skills and confidence through the course is truly rewarding. "Everyone deserves a chance to be seen and heard. … I just enjoy seeing people find and share their voice."

Jennifer E. O'Brien is a freelance writer from East Greenbush.

Want to go?

"Our Story"

Where: Rensselaer County Historical Society, 57 Second St., Troy

When: Through Dec. 19. The show may be viewed from noon to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. An opening reception will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Info: 272-3500, x119, or email eshannon@wdiny.org




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Coming at a moment of profound political and social crisis, What is Democracy reflects on a word we often take for granted.  Join Filmmaker Astra Taylor for a media and activism workshop from 4:00 to 5:30 PM on Studio Beta at EMPAC, and screen the film later that evening at the Sanctuary for Indepndent Media in Troy.