How would you respond if somebody asked you “What is your responsibility in creating community?”
To some, this is a loaded question. To others, it is simple. For award-winning Minnesota photographer John Noltner, it is something that he has built into A Peace of My Mind -- his ongoing photography project for the last 10 years.
Over the course of the day on Oct. 30, Noltner shot photographs of 167 University of Richmond students in the hanging lounge of Tyler Haynes Commons for his a university-specific offshoot of his series. Students could choose to answer the question about community and have their portraits taken to go along with their answers.
After photographing students, Noltner unveiled his final collection in the Alice Haynes Room the next day.
“The unveiling of the portraits was a really eye-opening experience to help bring the Richmond community together,” sophomore and SpiderBoard president Erin Watton said.
A Peace of My Mind began as an effort to “rediscover humanity in an increasingly polarized world” and has taken off ever since, according to its website.
Watton and Becca Levitt, a sophomore SpiderBoard member, decided to reach out to Noltner when they met him at the National Association for Campus Activities this past spring, they said. They invited him to UR as a part of homecoming festivities in order to engage in “a campus-wide conversation,” Watton said.
“We are really trying to promote a sense of community and school spirit,” Levitt said. “I think a big drive for us to have this during homecoming week is to get people excited about going to Richmond but also to get students from all different organizations to contribute on campus.”
For Noltner, photography has always been a way to connect with people and to help them make themselves vulnerable and step outside of their comfort zones, he said.
“We were looking for a way to help give a voice to students, communities and campuses, and I think a lot of people want to be heard,” Noltner said. “We don’t always have the chance to do that in our life.”
With a simple process, students were willing and able to be a part of something that truly engaged the university as a whole, which is what members of SpiderBoard said they were hoping to achieve.
Sophomores Jenny Kramer and Amanda Brosnan agreed the event was engaging and different because it promoted a greater sense of community.
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“I think it’s really awesome that people can express why they value community,” Brosnan said. “They can also highlight what they truly care about, and I think THC was the best place to do this.”
First-year SpiderBoard member Ceara Nolan received a lot of positive feedback from students before the unveiling, she said.
“I’ve definitely passed people in THC just looking at [pictures] saying how powerful the responses are,” Nolan said. “We’ve seen what other [campuses] have had to say about this, but it will be interesting to see what our campus has to say about it.”
After the unveiling, Watton said the audience had agreed that there were two important themes throughout everyone's responses: listening before speaking or making judgments and simply being kind.
“Richmond students want to learn about and be open to differing opinions, which is one of the ways we build a strong community,” Watton said. “Something as simple as a smile or saying hello to a stranger in passing is enough to make someone's day a little brighter.”
Noltner, who visits many different schools and communities weekly for his project, always enjoys the reactions he gets from his final unveilings, he said.
“I can feel the room sort of shift,” he said. “I can feel people seeing themselves and their peers in new ways, and it’s fun for me to tuck into a corner in the back to let them see themselves on the big screen.”
The final collection is on display in the Commons. The final unveil video may be accessed here.
Contact contributor Sophie Pilkington at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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