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Daniel Farnum's photography hits home

Saginaw native Daniel Farnum's exhibit at the (106) Gallery documents urban youth.
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More information about "Young Blood"

Daniel Farnum's "Young Blood" is installed at Calvin's (106) Gallery on South Division, and will run until August 17, 2012.


Another local exhibit covering similar subject matter is the Grand Rapids Art Museum's "Cities in Transition," which runs until August 26, 2012.

Daniel Farnum photography

Daniel Farnum photography /Jonathan Stoner

Daniel Farnum photography

Daniel Farnum photography /Jonathan Stoner

Impoverished circumstances as the subject matter for art is nothing new, especially within Michigan. Many artists and photographers have flocked to Detroit in particular to document the culmination of the city’s downfall. Though this pilgrimage has produced some beautiful and compelling work, it often lacks a human element. The impact on those who are left to live there has remained conspicuously absent, which is not to say that it has gone unnoticed. In his series “Young Blood,”  which is now on display at Calvin College’s (106) Gallery, Michigan-based photographer Daniel Farnum has set out to shift the focus of what is represented not only in Detroit, but in other economically suffering Michigan cities like Ypsilanti, Flint and his native Saginaw.

Focusing largely on these cities’ youth populations, Farnum adds further depth to the pre-existing notions of these cities as places that are not without hope, despite their suffering economic statuses. He wanted to present a group whose circumstances still contain the possibility for a different future, and an interesting conversation arises when the differences between the young adults he chose to represent come into play. In his artist statement he says he specifically photographed “the disenfranchised, the misunderstood, the urban pioneers, the aspiring thugs, and the hipsters,” not all of whom occupy these spaces for the same reasons. Some were born and raised in a particular city, some are unable to leave due to various reasons, and some are there voluntarily. He particularly pointed to hipsters as the representatives of this latter group. Some had come to places like Detroit in an attempt to kick-start something positive within the community. Others are there as observers, “touring sites of tragedy,” as Farnum puts it. One photo shows a visiting couple from France who specifically drove to Detroit to observe what they call “the city’s ruins”.

It’s a well-established fact that most of the world’s tourism industries are fueled by citizens of the world’s wealthier countries spending time and money in places in tropical nations who have much less money. Our vacations and leisure time are bolstered and often served by the same poverty and ruins Farnum spotlights in these Michigan cities. By turning the focus specifically on this conversation Detroit in particular is brought into the larger scope of tourism’s relationship with tragedy and poverty, becoming America’s most infamous site of this phenomenon. People and the lives they lead are transformed into spectacles, and through this project Farnum tried to form relationships with specific members of these communities. In doing so he moves to shift them into the realm of the subject rather than that of the observed object. He learned their stories and tried to convey them through his images, softening them and adding depth to the story he’s trying to tell the viewer.

Because Farnum hails from Saginaw he feels even more strongly about the import of his project. He wants to find a way to lend a voice to places that are often overlooked within the national discussion of the economic downturn and its effects. He argues that Detroit gets a lot of attention because there is a nostalgia that accompanies the idea of what the city once was. It sparks recollections of the role it has played in music, sports, times of economic prosperity when the auto industry was booming and the sense of innovation that accompanies that industry. Less well known places like Ypsilanti and Saginaw are less likely to attract that spotlight, and as a result he’s using his camera to lend their youth a megaphone.

Farnum has captured his subjects within the context of their daily lives and none of it is lost on the viewer. It is both compelling and moving, and further deepens the discussion of what the prolonged economic downturn means for this country and those who are forced to bear the brunt of it.

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