West Windsor, N.J. – Students enrolled in Documentary Photography classes at Mercer County Community College spent time on the road this spring to document the changing landscape of Bethlehem, Pa., the once towering steel town.
Taught by Photography Program Coordinator Michael Dalton and adjunct faculty member John Monahan, the documentary course covers techniques and issues surrounding photography at location assignments. Students also submit work for Mercer's award-winning student newspaper, The College Voice, and create a photographic essay during the semester.
“We are on the look-out for meaningful assignments for our students,” Dalton said.
“Professor Monahan was visiting the Banana Factory, an arts center in Bethlehem, and he liked it so much he wanted to create a connection for Mercer's Photography program.”
The result is “Mercer County College Photographs Bethlehem,” an exhibit of 40 photos that will be on display through July 28. Two receptions will be held, one on June 7 from 6 to 10 p.m., and the second on July 5 from 6 to 10 p.m. (The receptions are part of “First Friday” open houses held at the Banana Factory every month.)
According to Dalton, he and Monahan were intrigued by a project that combined photography with America’s industrial history. He says that students were equally enthused. Small groups traveled to Bethlehem multiple times over several months, capturing images of their own choosing, ranging from abandoned Bethlehem Steel office buildings and factories, to local and monuments and landscapes.
“Bethlehem was of particular interest because of its role as a thriving steel manufacturer for almost a century,” Dalton said. “By the 1980s, American steel production was in steep decline due to cheaper manufacturing overseas. And by 2001 Bethlehem Steel was in bankruptcy and the assets were sold off.”
He notes that students used both traditional film and digital cameras. “Professor Monahan’s students primarily worked with film-based photography, while my students used digital cameras and shot video footage. We give students the option of shooting traditionally with black and white film stills or shooting a documentary video along with stills in my class.”
Students created three documentary videos. One features an interview with Curtis (Hank) Barnette, CEO of Bethlehem Steel from 1992-2000; another looks at puppet creator and master Doug Roysdon, whose Mock Turtle Marionette Theater performs to sold-out crowds at The Ice House in Bethlehem; and a third explores the life and art of "Mr. I," artist Gregory Warmack. All three are part of the exhibit and can also be viewed here.
Dalton observes that the city of Bethlehem began a transition in the mid-2000s. A plan drawn up in 2007 repurposed the steel mill district into a casino and an art and entertainment destination known as SteelStacks. SteelStacks is home to ArtsQuest, which runs the Banana Factory Gallery.
Hours and location for the Banana Factory are posted at: www.artsquest.org. (Scroll down to Banana Factory.)
Photo by Britt Curry
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