Story and photo by Rachel Ingram
Published in North Lake Travis Log (Features / Top Stories), June 22, 2011
Thanks to Kim Conley, Jonestown has made its mark on the global art scene by participating in a worldwide project called Inside Out. The project was founded by French artist JR after he won this year’s TED Prize — $100,000 and one wish to change the world. Using art for positive change, JR asked people across the world to transform personal identities into art by taking large-scale, black-and-white portrait photos and displaying them in public.
So far more than 4,000 people have participated, but Conley’s 27-photo exhibit could be one of the largest.
Inside Out has a few guidelines. Photos must be close-up portraits and in black and white. They also must be blown up to poster-size and displayed “in the wild” — in other words, out in the community.
Conley, who has been a photographer for 15 years and was published three times in a Chicago-based travel magazine, set a launch date of June 11 for her photo collection. She began taking photos in mid-April.
After working at the local Meals on Wheels and More program for two years, the choice was simple when deciding on a subject: North Shore seniors. She also came up with a name for the exhibit: Living History.
“That’s what seniors are,” Conley said. “They’re walking, talking, breathing history.”
The 27 photographed seniors are all Meals on Wheels participants who come to the Northwest Rural Community Center for lunch and socializing each day between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.
“I’d like to make them feel like superstars for a minute because I think so many of them have lived really interesting lives and have great stories,” Conley said. “It’s a show of appreciation to them and what they bring to the community.”
One of the seniors went to a concentration camp as a child, and several of them have military and war stories. Some seniors spent their whole lives in Jonestown and have interesting stories of the city’s history and how it has changed in the last 50-70 years.
“Some people just know a lot,” Conley said. “Even if they haven’t gone through much, they have gathered so much information.”
Once Conley had all the photos she wanted, she submitted them to Inside Out to be displayed on the website, www.insideoutproject.net. In a month, Inside Out made the photographs into posters and sent them to Conley.
After getting the support of Jonestown Mayor Deane Armstrong and speaking at a City Council meeting, Conley got approval to display the 3-foot by 4-foot posters on the outside windows of the community center at 18649 FM 1431. As the saying goes, eyes are the windows to our souls, and Conley hopes looking into the eyes of the subjects in their close-up portraits will inspire residents to want to know more about the knowledge and experience local seniors have.
Twenty photos are on the front of the building and seven are on the side of the building. City Secretary Linda Hambrick suggested to Conley that she include senior North Shore musicians in her project. The musicians make up the seven seniors on the side of the building facing True Grits.
Some seniors enjoyed having their picture taken, while others had to be coaxed a bit. Whether they were camera shy or not, no one has told Conley they wished their photo wasn’t on display.
“I think some of them are a little intimidated by their own picture as they walk in every day,” Conley said. “But I think that’s good for you. It helps you accept yourself more. It helps you maybe realize you’re worth more than you thought. Then when you have people walking up to you saying your picture looks great, how can that do anything but help you with your self esteem?”
Inside Out participants were required to submit biographies with their photos, and in the next few months Conley will be compiling her subjects’ stories and photos in a book. She is hoping the book will be ready in three months and will be available at the community center and a couple local businesses.
Conley’s “Living History” project had its launch party June 11 with live music by some of the musicians photographed for the project. The next step in Conley’s participation with Inside Out is to upload photos of her work being displayed in public, so the whole world will see the Jonestown community center and its walls of “living history.”