Pictured, from left (see below for more information on each): From the North Hill series, 2018
Materials: Color digital print, 48" x 32” each.
Location at Summa Health: Dr. Gary B. and Pamela S. Williams Tower on the Akron Campus (141 N. Forge St.), blue neighborhood, second floor hallway, outside rooms H2-204 and H2-205.
Shane Wynn is a photojournalist and photographer who trains her camera, in recent non-commercial work, on underrepresented groups, communities, and individuals in Northeast Ohio. The large-format, naturalistic photographs you see here in the Summa Health Healing Arts Collection are part of a series that focuses on refugee inhabitants of Akron’s North Hill neighborhood. They continue Wynn’s direction from the 2017’s Overlooked, when she made a series of photos of powerful Akron women in abandoned or unused building spaces, highlighting the need for us to pay more attention to both; and Pride in the Moment, documentation of the International Gay Games in Cleveland and Akron in 2014.
As an activist, Wynn says that she is “happiest when the worlds of art and journalism collide,” and her recent work has witnessed this commitment to social issues that align with her beliefs, as in her North Hill series:
I am aware that immigrants and refugees are not always embraced with open arms by some segments of the population, but it’s easy to forget that almost all of us are descended from immigrants. My hope is that these portraits will help Akronites to see that these are people who come from loving families, who are working hard to make a better life for their children and grandchildren, just as our ancestors did for us when they made their journeys to America.
Wynn has lived in Akron since high school and earned the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Akron. As a professional photographer, she has both corporate and non-profit clients; as a photojournalist and artist, she has been recognized many times for her work, such the Ohio Excellence in Journalism Award for portraiture, from the Cleveland Press Club (2017) and the Knight Arts Challenge award (twice).
This mother-and-son portrait, almost life-sized, has considerable power: Both figures stand almost frontally — the son towering above his petite mother and leaning in as a gesture of love, and perhaps also protection — and gaze confidently into the camera.The bright colors, along with the distinctive textures and patterns, especially in Neema’s traditional costume, are striking and require the beholder to notice that Neema’s jewelry and Phul’s hair also have a look of the exotic: One might recognize Phul’s topknot from venerable sculptures of the Buddha, even as he wears western chinos, and casually shoves his hand into a pocket.
The artist asserts that she intends the photographs in this series to showcase the ethnic diversity in Akron’s International District, North Hill.It is a pleasure to be introduced to our new neighbors.
Asha, turbaned and clad in a vibrant print, at left, and Furaha, at right, turn their gazes outward to the camera as they embrace, a strong mother-daughter bond that is underscored by the scale of this photograph. The style of dress and the patterns of the cloth, as well as earrings, necklaces, and bracelets, speak to the care that both subjects have taken to present themselves in “native dress” for this double portrait, rich in texture and color. It is difficult to take our eyes away from the elaborate cornrows of Furaha’s hair, for we respond intuitively to the artistry, effort, and time required to create the regularity that gives it such impact, following the contours of her skull.
Wynn has lit this photo to emphasize the beauty of the women’s skin and the sheen and drape of the fabric. The portraits in this series show the figures almost at life-size but only from the knees up, which increases the feeling of intimacy by suggesting that we look at them from close at hand (so their feet fall outside our gaze).
Where you can see more of this artist’s work:
Wynn’s photographs have been published in print publications such as View Magazine (Akron Art Museum), Crain’s Akron and Cleveland Business, as well as Forbes and Rolling Stone. The North Hill series has been appreciatively noted on television and in print. Wynn has also taken part in presenting her work to the public in the Curated Storefronts project.