Instagram's haute lights are shining on the center-city neighborhood. Artists and longtime residents hope to expose the entire picture.
Last summer, artist Mona Gazala began an effort to reclaim a hashtag—and a neighborhood's image of itself.
Gazala—who founded the Second Sight Project, a visual arts residency in Franklinton—discovered that the hashtag #AsSeenInFranklinton was often trotted out on Instagram to celebrate the trendier east side of the neighborhood. Her discovery came courtesy of W.E. Arnold, a photographer who was in residence at Second Sight in 2016 and 2017. He used the hashtag when uploading his images of the people, places and everyday life of Franklinton, but when he searched the site for other photos tagged the same way, he encountered pictures unlike his own. Glamorous shots of dinner, drinks and wedding receptions dominated.
“There's just an awful lot of Franklinton media narrative being created by people who are here as business and real estate investors,” Gazala writes in an email, “and oftentimes the existence of the people who have been here all along gets erased in those narratives.”
In response, she organized a project in which the residents of Franklinton were called upon to take their own pictures of the community, uploading the results to Instagram accompanied by #AsSeenInFranklinton. Gazala planned to use the best photos to create a public art installation around the neighborhood.
With funding from the Franklinton Arts District, #AsSeenInFranklinton debuted in August by setting up a photo booth at Franklinton's National Night Out festival, “a good launching point for involving the whole neighborhood in ‘taking back' that hashtag,” Gazala writes.
Second Sight publicized the project by posting to social media, distributing information cards and visiting area high schools. In December, Gazala started sifting through images that used the hashtag, ultimately selecting about 50 pictures for a community-wide vote that took place at in-person events and online. In March, about a dozen of the photographs that earned the most votes will be displayed on banners hung at spots throughout Franklinton, including Bottoms Up Coffee Co-Op and Wood.Metal.Art.
Arnold says he appreciates that the chosen photos depict the real Franklinton. “It wasn't the fancy things going on down there in East Franklinton,” he says. One of his pictures was among those selected—a shot of a young boy named Jeremiah who was Arnold's neighbor while he was living at Second Sight.
Gazala instructed participants not to sugarcoat the neighborhood, to show its strengths and weaknesses, and she got beauty and blight in return. There were images of neighbors doing civic work, and a backdoor sign warning drug dealers to move on. The most popular among adult voters came from Dre Peoples, showing him wearing a sweatshirt that reads, “Don't gentrify me,” alongside two friends in similar gear.
A banner-worthy example of beauty came from Aisha Peterson, who took a photo of the vibrant mural on the side of Franklinton Cycle Works. There's no deeper significance behind her pretty, sun-splashed image, but Peterson wants the public to understand the greater context. “My hope is that people will see that there are real people living here … that have established their families here, and that this is a meaningful place to them.”
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