State of the Arts: Framing Akron Neighborhood by Neighborhood

Apr 20, 2018

The City of Akron has two dozen neighborhoods. Each is captured in a new photography exhibit called "24."

On this week’s State of the Arts, we talk with the people behind the camera about what it means to see Akron through a lens.

Photos of all shapes and sizes from Akron's 24 neighborhoods hang side by side for opening night of the newest exhibit at Summit Art Space in Akron.  There's everything from a panorama of the inside of the Civic Theater to a shot of the demolition of what was once Rolling Acres Mall.

Capturing the Rubber City
"Everyone has an interest in their own neighborhood because it really is about giving a damn. That’s what builds momentum in a city," Akron-based photographer Shane Wynn said.

'Playtime' by Kevin Richards was taken in Akron's Middlebury neighborhood.
Credit Kevin Richards / Summit Artspace

She curated the show and said  a mix of amateur and professional photographers took the 30 plus photos She said the thing that unites them all is an emotional connection to the city.

"It could be the most technically beautiful picture you’ve ever seen in your life and I could not care about it at all." 

One photo in the exhibit, from Akron’s Middlebury neighborhood, shows kids playing in a homemade swimming pool on warm summer day. Wynn said it's a depiction of the positive side of the city. 

"But then we also have represented (in the show) some of the blight and some of the issues that we have here with poverty and with trash and with distressed areas."

Through the Eye of the Beholder
Photographer Janean Ray has two photos in the show.

"This is quite a feat for me. I’m a late in life photographer, just getting started about four years ago," Ray said. 

'Color My World' by Janean Ray was taken in Downtown Akron.
Credit Janean Ray / Summit Artspace

Both her shots capture candid moments in the city’s downtown. One shows children carefully painting a bright mural at a summer festival.

The other photo is of an Akron police officer helping to install a large chalkboard menu on the side of a Swenson’s food truck.  

"I just noticed the officer helping him put the sign up and I thought it’s kind of what Akron’s all about. Helping each other and the neighborhood," she said. 

Across the gallery, photographer Adam Bernard is standing in front of his photo. It's of an early morning view of a gas station in West Akron. He said he got a sudden bolt of inspiration while driving down the highway.

"There was this glare, this beaming glare of the sun coming up. And I’m like ‘I’ve got to get that light. I’ve got to capture the light," Bernard said. 

'Ohio-162' by Adam Bernard.
Credit Adam Bernard / Summit Artspace

He said the scene itself isn’t remarkable, but it captures a kind of magic of his hometown.

"There’s a connection. It could be a neighborhood you like, it could be a neighborhood you don’t like, because it is home."

More Than Two Decades in the Making
The exhibit actually has two parts. Off to the side of the main gallery, Shane Wynn put together floor-to-ceiling displays not only of photos from Akron’s 24 neighborhoods, but her own 24 years behind the camera.

"Obviously, if you look around this room it’s like someone vomited Akron," she said.

She said she had to comb through decades of work shooting for more than 10 publications including Cleveland Scene, Cleveland.com and The Devil Strip.

Shane Wynn poses in front of her photo of Downtown Akron
Credit Mark ARehart / WKSU

"And I know what my favorites are. And they probably differ from anyone else’s. But they really kind of popped out at me. Also I have interest in keeping it diverse and representing different pockets (of society) -- and making sure the marginalized populations that aren’t usually represented are represented because that’s important to me in all of my work."

In the end, she chose around 100 photos for her part of the show. 

There’s a life size woman in full roller derby gear positioned in front of a bright yellow background. Near the ceiling, there is a shot a small boy holding a huge cut out of LeBron James’ face during the 2016 Cavaliers’ championship celebration in Akron.

And taking up one entire wall to one side is a crisp photo of the city taken from the very top of the Huntington Bank building.

To Shane Wynn and the other photographers in the show, the photos on the walls are more than just pictures, they capture the essence of the Rubber City.

“24” is on display at the Summit Art Space in Akron through May 12.