The Conception
The Plan
Shooting the Project
The Controversy
The Media
The Media
The Participants and Project Photographs
Final Notes
The Project Poster
 
Richmond Times-Dispatch

What came first; the media or the controversy? Well in the case of OTE, media reporting actually fueled the controversy and criticism we would encounter prior to the exhibit being opened to the public.

Kimberly Ann called me on 3/29/2010 telling me that the Richmond Times-Dispatch wanted to do a story on the project. At this stage, aside from the shot I took for the logo, I hadn't taken a single shot of a person. We just got the logo finalized on the 24th and Kimberly Ann sent out an email calling for participants....a casting call of sorts for our "short film". The RT-D wanted to send a reporter and photographer down to cover one of our shoots on the 31st to be published in the Sunday paper on 4/4/2010.

I certainly wasn't too thrilled over the situation for various different reasons. We didn't have a shoot planned for the 31st. It wasn't known at this point if we would have enough participants to pull this project off. This and the fact that I haven't taken the first shot yet, I felt having an article written at this stage was grossly premature. If I had some successful project shoots under my belt to get into the swing of things, I may have been more receptive of the idea. This however would be the very first shoot. Kimberly Ann didn't want to pass up on this opportunity for "publicity". What came to my mind was that I was on a "runaway freight train". This would only foreshadow things to come with regards to this project. Kimberly Ann ultimately got her way and plans were made for two rather impromptu "shoots" (Brent & Garry) on the 31st.

Like many of the images taken for the project, I simply had to deal with what was presented to me and try to make the best out of it. I did have a safety net though in the case of the "reporter shoots". I knew going in that both Brent and Garry were easy going and if there was a need for a reshoot, they would have done it. The bottom line is that the reporter and photographer would see me shooting people who appeared nude.

Garry's shot was going to be indoors so anytime during the day was fine but that was not the case with Brent's planned shot. I had a totally different shot envisioned for Brent which was to be taken in the early morning sun at a specific location. The planned location would not work for the "reporter shoot" since the reporter was not coming down until late afternoon. I had to come up with a different shot. Kimberly Ann suggested a location and I was able to figure out a shot once we arrived there.

Not having shot for a while, I did have a little rust. Coupling that with a reporter and another photographer watching me do my thing did not make for an ideal situation. Both shoots were rather laid back and went well. The reporter remarked how fast and effortless things went. The personalities of Garry and Brent led to the shoots being relaxed. She asked "how long do you think it will take to complete the shooting. Six months?". I explained to her that the target date for the exhibit opening was 5/14 which was a mere 45 days away. This surprised her.

A primary concern I had with the timing of the article was the potential of hurting our recruitment effort. I was also concerned about people dropping out of the project as a result of the article. This was a reason I thought the article was premature. Without participants, there would be no project. The article was published 4/4/2010 (Easter Sunday). It wasn't in the "Lifestyle" section where one would expect such an article to be but on the front page of Sunday "Business" section with a big picture of Brent playing his flute. There was also a teaser on the front page as well.

The bottom line is that I was not too thrilled with the article. I felt the reporter really overused "nudity" throughout the article and didn't quite explain the "intent" behind the project too well. It will never be known whether this article hurt participant recruitment or not. It did provide fuel to those individuals who actively tried to sabotage the project and persuade folks from doing it. There is no evidence that it actually helped with the recruiting effort. This said, I did not anticipate the effect that the article would have on the "perception" of the project which went beyond simple eye rolling. This article would be a catalyst for the drama that would come.

Since the opening, Kim has said that having an article written early on was a scheme of hers to lock me into the project. She was afraid that I would back out over criticisms of the project. First of all, it was the article that caused most of the criticisms to begin with. I would not have backed out of this project because of criticism of people who have no basis for their criticism. Additionally, the people whose opinions that do matter to me had already been told about the project. I had already assured them "I will not embarass the family". I was confident that once the show was hung, the work would speak for itself. I knew the "vision" I had for the project was solid. Secondly, if it turned out that I didn't get the results (by my own judgment) I wanted, the project would not have seen the light of day regardless if the RT-D article was written or not.

This said, the article was THE catalyst for the eventual commotion that arose about this project and this was not a bad thing at all. All the "controversy" did elevate the awareness of the project unlike any art exhibit ever done in the area.

 
Richmond Times Dispatch Article
 

WTVR TV 6 CBS

While there were some folks I personally reached out to, getting the talent was primarily the domain of Kimberly Ann. From the beginning, I told Kimberly Ann that we want 20-25 images for a solid project.

We had some people get on the bus with no hesitation while others would require a little more coercing. We would have some people initially enthusiastically volunteer; only to back out. We would have some people who really wanted to do it but feared consequences from their employer, church, etc. Unfortunately, I had some really creative ideas for some specific individuals that would never be shot because we couldn't get them to participate. Along the way, we would be surprised by some who were willing to do this project with no hesitation. We would be no less surprised by some who decline originally expecting them to agree with no hesitation. We would not really know what we would ultimately end up with until the last shot was taken.

The actual motivation why a person would volunteer to do this project would vary from individual to individual. A fascinating story could be written on this particular aspect of the project. Contrary to what many may think, this was not a collection of people who were exhibitionists.

All participants were required to sign a release that would explain in detail the constraints in which their picture would be used. We did not want anyone surprised later on with regards to any aspect of the project and how their image may ultimately be use

 
 
Progress-Index

Well the very local (two blocks up the street) Progress-Index came very late to the party and that was only because of the "controversy" that had ensued. Despite the fact that the project generated interest (before any controversy) from the much larger and statewide circulated Richmond Times-Dispatch as well as the award winning PBS television documentary program "Virginia Currents", the managing editor of the Progress-Index told Kimberly Ann earlier on that he had no interest in doing a story. He felt that a story would give Kimberly Ann's store too much publicity. Somehow he completely failed to see the aspects of the project that other media outlets had found interesting. We had a unique artistic project that included 47 people of all ages and races.

Early on and before the so-called "controversy", a poll question was asked on the Progress-Index FaceBook page whether OTE was good or bad exposure for Petersburg. There were only positive comments but the question/comments quickly disappeared from their page. This was an example on how committed the powers-to-be at the newspaper were on not providing any coverage for this project that was happening in their own back yard.

I received a call from a Progress-Index reporter on 5/7/2010 wanting to interview me about the "controversy". The story was finally published on 5/13/2010; the day before the opening. I felt the reporter did a good job on the article. He let two polar opposite sides state their case but there wasn't a follow-up to inform about the "reality" of this objectionable project once it was opened to the public.

Now if a "controversy" that centered around a project that no one had seen was worthy of a front page article, the question needs to be asked....why wasn't there a follow-up article? What were the attitudes of the general public (and the petition organizers) once they were able to actually view this project? Did the project bring people down to "Old Towne" the following night? After all, this was a stated goal of the project organizers. Did the project have any impact on businesses in "Old Towne" the evening of the 14th? Wouldn't getting answers to these questions be ummm...."journalism"? A "comment" questioning the lack of follow-up that was posted on the newspaper's website did not survive the newspaper's screening process and never appeared.

On 6/6/2010, a "Letter to the Editor" from Virginia B. Hughes was published in the Progress-Index. Kimberly Ann nor I know Ms. Hughes but we do certainly appreciate her kind comments about the project. View articles below.

 
Progress Index Article
 
Progress Index Letter to Editor
 
WCVE PBS "Virginia Currents"

Prior to the opening, OTE was "exposed" to an even greater degree when John G. Warner (managing producer and videographer) of the award winning PBS show "Virginia Currents" paid a visit to one of our shoots. I was photographing kb saine (Producing Artistic Director) and Elise Boyd (Actor), both of "Sycamore Rouge", that evening. He did an on-camera interview with kb as well as taped some of the goings on during the actual shoot. John also came back and shot some more interviews during our pre-opening that we had for participants and selected guests. While asked by John to be interviewed, I begged off. Because of the fear of sounding like an idiot, I simply chose to stay on my side of the camera. Kimberly Ann, Randy and kb handled the interviews just great.

The story was heavily promoted on NPR and first aired on 5/13/2010; the evening before the opening of the exhibit. A crowd of OTE participants gathered at Wabi Sabi, a local "Old Towne" restaurant/bar, that evening to watch "Virginia Currents" on the big screen. Wabi Sabi's owner participated in the project. I was there as well but while watching, I was also busily laying out the project poster on my laptop at the same time. This poster needed to be done prior to the next evening when the exhibit opened.

Unlike the other media reporting, no mention was made of the petition or controversy. The focus of their story was on the project and the people participating in it. We posted a link to this story on FaceBook as soon as it was available on the net for viewing.

 
 
Social Media - Facebook

We decided early on to use "social media" to spread the word about the project. This was a very fast way to get the news and happenings of OTE out to the masses. Our FaceBook activities did generate interest in the project but not only from folks coming to view the finished exhibit. Our FaceBook presence motivated some individuals to contact us and volunteer as participants after reading about the project.

I stated up front and made it VERY clear that there would be no postings of the project images on FaceBook. Some participants did post about their shooting session experiences and were complimentary of Kimberly Ann and me on how things were handled.

We did post links to the various news stories about the project. We were also the first (a good week before the media) to report about the petition against the exhibit. We posted a scan of the preamble of it. We hid nothing, with regards to the project.

The FaceBook page not only attracted fans from the local area but also throughout the US as well as some other countries. Even two months after the exhibition closed, we are still attracting new fans. Become a "fan" today by clicking on the "like" button below. All the "cool" kids are doing it!

 
 
 
 
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