Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Guest Artist, Melissa Stallard

Hi everyone and happy Spring! I am back after a short hiatus to share the work of a great photographer who had a great deal of influence on my color pursuits,  Melissa Stallard.

I met Melissa in 2009 when she was an instructor at Radford University's Art Department. She had recently completed her MFA at Columbia and I was tremendously impressed with her grasp of technique and fluency in photographic history and was proud to have her serve as the chair of my master's thesis committee.

Her images represent a visual sophistication characterized by careful observation and unique balance. The color of the images is the result of film translated into digital information which results in richness and subtlety, lending itself to the credibility of these places.

THE SHRINKING CITY (2011 – current)

These photographs document the results of a long-term economic crisis in Youngstown, Ohio and the city’s transition into a more stable, smaller city surrounded by the ghosts of its prosperous industrial past. Until now, the economic climate and its long-term effects on the area, has not been a subject of serious photographic investigation. This is particularly significant since no other community in the United States has purposefully set out to downsize its topographical footprint in order to remain viable. Rather than focusing on urban ruin, this series documents the measures taken by civic leaders and community activists to improve the quality of life for their city’s residents.

Youngstown has an astounding 22,000 empty lots and 7,000 abandoned homes with only 66,000 residents remaining. The vacant areas within this community simultaneously stand as a reverent and melancholic reminder of the city’s former glory yet also grant it its future. The city’s East side, emblematic of more hopeful times, was developed after World War II; streets were carved into the landscape, lined with utility poles, and fitted with a water and sewer system in anticipation of economic growth. The expected surge of industry and people never came, leaving the area under-utilized, and finally, abandoned by its planners. Many of the existing streets are overgrown and blocked with concrete barriers. Expansive plots of land, once the promise of Youngstown’s future, stand silent, overgrown with trees. Other neighborhoods plagued with blight are razing
unoccupied structures. Only footprints of former structures remain, evidenced by sunken earth, overgrown sidewalks and driveway aprons; an indication of the passage of time.

Amidst the decline, there is hope. The city has designated some areas to return to the natural habitat or public-use green space while others will become urban farms or raised-bed community gardens. As the nation’s poorest city, with 49.7% of its residents living at-or-below poverty level, these gardens provide a safe place, and through free education, enable the residents with the skills necessary to cultivate their own food. These things strengthen the fractured communities by empowering the people: improving their quality of life and increasing property values by reducing unsightly blight and crime.

--Melissa K. Stallard

melissa stallard