Faces of Poverty

Rare Book Room, Foley Center Library

March 2 - April 9, 2009

The Faces of Poverty: Global and Local Images depicts poverty in the United States and around the world.  Global images include pictures from Colombia, South America by Photo-Journalist Brad Reynolds, S.J., and from around the globe by Gerard Straub, film maker from Los Angeles.  Local photos are presented by Spokane photographer Bethany Mahan, and Seattle photographer and former Gonzaga student, Kelly Hammer.   As well, the exhibit includes images from the Gonzaga University archives. The exhibit was assembled and displayed by Gonzaga University's Photographer and Graphic Artist, Bill Kostelec, and his wife, Kathy.  The exhibit was organized by Jerri Shepard and Héctor Javier Rocafort of the School of Professional Studies.

The exhibit was born out of the Twinning Agreement between the Jesuit Province of Colombia, South America and the Jesuit Province of Oregon, based on a commitment to work together for the good of the Society of Jesus and the formation of Jesuits and lay collaborators. The Twinning Agreement opened opportunities for cooperation among the universities: Universidad Javeriana, Bogotá, Colombia; Universidad Javeriana, Cali, Colombia; Gonzaga University, and Seattle University.  All geographical areas are represented visually in the exhibit.

Each province independently, and all provinces collaboratively, determined how best to integrate spiritual formation, parochial and pastoral ministry, education at all levels, research, social action, and communications.  Poverty relates to all of these issues; and continues to present considerable challenges globally and in the United States.  The idea for the Poverty Photo Exhibit came out of discussions among faculty members of the Twinning Agreement Committee, under the direction of Dean of the School of Professional Studies, Dr. Mary McFarland, with help from Dr. Jerri Shepard and Héctor Javier Rocafort.  Faculty discussion focused on the need for awareness and social action by Gonzaga students and faculty and the community at large.  It was important for the discussions originating in the Twinning Agreement to become something real for our community.  For that reason, images were selected as a powerful way to create awareness that could lead to change.  Photographs depict poverty in a way that discussion cannot; images touch the heart, as well as the mind.

More than a year ago, Jerri Shepard and Héctor Javier Rocafort began researching photographers who capture images of poverty in Colombia, S.A., in various parts of the world, in the United States, and specifically, in Spokane, Washington.  Although poverty in the United States is vastly different from poverty in many parts of undeveloped countries, the experiences of powerlessness, suffering, and hopelessness are universal.  As a Jesuit Institution with a strong mission of service, it is necessary for Gonzaga students and faculty to be aware of social, political, economic, and spiritual issues related to poverty and to understand that each person alone and all people together can make a huge difference; and provide hopeful outcomes for what seems like hopeless conditions.

Photo-journalist Brad Reynolds, S.J., a Jesuit-Artist-in-Residence at Gonzaga University was the first photographer whose work became known to Shepard and Rocafort.  He was invited to Colombia in 2006 to photograph Jesuits and their ministries.  At a time when Colombia was well known for guerrillas, drug lords, drive-by shootings, and kidnappings, Reynolds found a lush, fertile,  and beautiful country with kind and friendly people. His photographs depict a country and people ripped apart now and struggling to survive. The word that Reynolds used to describe all that he saw and heard in Colombia was "resiliencia" (resilience).  It just so happened that there was a number of photographs at Gonzaga that had been part of a photo exhibit at Seattle University a few years ago.  Reynolds was gracious enough to share his photographs and allow them to be part of this exhibit.  The photos, which depict poverty in both people and places in various parts of Colombia, provided the initial scaffolding for the photo exhibit.

As Shepard and Rocafort continued to develop the exhibit, one blessed discovery led to another.  Acting Dean of the School of Professional Studies, Dr. Sandi Wilson, discovered the work of Gerard Straub, a Hollywood producer from Los Angeles, who authored the book, When did I see you hungry? (2002). Every person who has seen this book has been deeply touched by this "photographic and textual meditation on the plight of the poor".   Straub documents the lives of the poor in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Italy, India, Jamaica, the Philippines, Kenya, and Brazil through photographs and text.  Straub and "spiritual writers of many different faiths- tell the heart-breaking story of the homeless and poor while challenging and encouraging us to help feed the hungry among us".  Many of the photos in The Faces of Poverty come from Straub's collection.

Bethany Mahan is a Spokane photographer who raises awareness of the city's "invisibles" through her photography, which has been highlighted by the Spokesman Review and in photo exhibits around town.  Mahan's artist's statement is "I love anything beautiful found in: the ugly and mundane, forgotten, sneered at, turned away from or typically missed...", and her camera doesn't miss a thing, especially the beauty within (Spokesman Review, February, 2008).  "Mahan's work speaks volumes and gives voice to what she calls the ‘marginals' of our community, adding that we're all marginalized in one way or another". 

The project came to life when Gonzaga's Photographer and Graphic Artist, Dr. Bill Kostelec joined the team.  Kostelec's extensive knowledge of photography and experience setting up photo exhibits helped to materialize the conceptual.  One of Kostelec's former students at Gonzaga, Kelly Hammer's work is also on display.   Kostelec also found photos from Montana, dated 1958, that were in the Gonzaga Library archives.

In a search for programs that serve the poor in Spokane, Rocafort and Shepard discovered The Women's Hearth, a local resource for women in transition.  The Women's Hearth offers a number of free classes and groups, including several art classes that provide an opportunity for healing.  Stephanie Burgess, an Ameri-corps volunteer, recently coordinated a photography project, portraying the often overlooked perspectives of homeless and low-income women in downtown Spokane. The photos have been on exhibit and are now a part of this exhibit.   Also presented in this exhibit are a series of sculptures, which represent one woman's journey of recovery from childhood sexual abuse. 

The exhibit is an invitation to Gonzaga University's community and the general public to observe, explore, and reflect upon the images presented depicting poverty globally and locally. It intends to disturb our own concept of poverty while inviting the observer to reflect on the meanings of these images.  Presentations and panels will help observers to personalize their understanding of poverty.  The exhibit will provide rich opportunities for inquiry: Are those really "Faces of Poverty"?; Does poverty mean unhappiness?; Who seems to be really poor in the pictures?

The purpose of this exhibit is to create awareness and consciousness around issues of poverty.  This is done through photographic images and also through a series of panels and presentations.  These presentations include multi-disciplinary perspectives by faculty and community representatives, as well as by individuals who have lived in poverty.  Participants will have the opportunity to observe differing realities while being challenged and encouraged to embrace the sacred in all of humanity.

For more information, contact:     Dr. Jerri Shepard (509)313-3630, shepard@gonzaga.edu

And Hector Javier Rocafort   (509) 483-2319, hrocafor@gonzaga.edu

We do not detach ourselves from things in order to attach ourselves to God, but rather we become detached from ourselves in order to see and use all things in and for God.

Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation