“Hope Memorial” Photo Show at the Loop Depicts River Crossings

Fri 9/13 @ 6-10PM

“There are 124 crossings over the Cuyahoga River,” begins photographer Matthew Chasney’s book The Hope Memorial — also the title of his show opening at Loop Café in Tremont Fri 9/13 @ 6-10pm.

“The most prominent within the city of Cleveland is the Hope Memorial Bridge, finished in 1932 with its larger-than-life Guardians of Transportation carved from massive slabs of Berea sandstone overlooking its span. The Cuyahoga River caught fire at least a dozen times in the 20th century, although the true figure is uncertain. The guardians watched, but nobody really cared enough to record them all. Less than a decade after the river fire, Cleveland mayor Ralph Perk’s hair caught fire during a photo op. That fire was recorded.”

Chasney’s clean, moving photos offer quiet moments for the observer. Set to this well-crafted introduction, they tell less of a story than they do set a mood.

“Besides that bleak period around the 1970s when things caught fire that shouldn’t catch fire, Cleveland generally has a reputation for being a no-nonsense, blue-collar, hard-working town. “gritty,” as some folks like to call it. “gritty,” which is how we market Cleveland to outsiders and to ourselves. In reality, it is poor, segregated, and rapidly gentrifying. gritty.”

Chasney’s book, published by Outlandish Press, will be available at Loop and the Nomadic Bookshelf. The show will be up at Loop until the second weekend in October.

Chasney shared some thoughts on this collection:

What drew you particularly to the crossings of the Cuyahoga River?

My last project was very conceptual and heavy with context. The one that I’ve just begun work on now is the same way. Furthermore, most of my work has not been in Cleveland even though I’m from here. I wanted to do a very simple project about the place that I’m most familiar with and I thought that it would be interesting to think of Cleveland as if the Cuyahoga Valley just didn’t exist. In Cleveland, of course, going from east to west is a whole big thing. So, instead of thinking of the river, I was just thinking of the crossings. I didn’t provide much context for where something was shot, and I also tried to avoid any visual clues about locations because I wanted the region to be viewed with as few preconceptions as possible. In some ways it’s a document, in some ways it’s a warning, and in some ways it’s a love song.

These photos are moving — and refreshingly devoid of the usual tired Cleveland subject matter — but they could really be set in any midwest city for the most part. What about them most gives you a sense of Cleveland’s essence?

That was definitely intentional. I think that a photo of a cop is a hell of a lot more representative of Cleveland than the Terminal Tower or some silly sign. Also, I tend to work a lot with the singularity of place in mind; for this one, I wanted to try making a place look just like anywhere else. These photographs happened to be made in northeast Ohio, but they are really just visual representations of some of the themes of the region instead of being about the region. To answer your question, I don’t think any of these gives me a sense of the essence of this place and that’s OK. It takes a lot to do that and the nature of this project was never intended to drill down that far. I think that I succeeded in presenting a series of vignettes that express my experience with this place.

Did you come away with some interesting stories interacting with the portrait subjects?

The photograph of Eileen is a special one to me. I took my kids to swimming lessons and I saw her outside of the pool with her swimming cap and goggles on — she was so immediately striking. My first impulse was to photograph her but I decided to wait because it didn’t feel right. Some time later while the kids were in the water, she sat down on a deck chair near me, saw my camera and struck up a conversation about it. She told me that she was finally learning to swim — I would guess that she was well into her 70s. I didn’t ask to make her photograph. Again, it wasn’t right. I made peace with the fact that I might not photograph her. She got into the pool and swim some laps. The kids finished their lesson and we prepared to leave. As we walked past her lane I heard a woman’s voice call my son’s name — it was one of his former teachers, Catherine, who happened to be talking to Eileen. I said hello to her and I finally asked Eileen if I could photograph her. She said, “Yes, but only because you know Catherine.” That photograph would never have happened if I rushed it — even if it had, it wouldn’t have been nearly as compelling. I got to know Eileen a little bit over the summer and she’s just an absolute joy. She’s just a wonderful person.

What do you hope people take away from this collection?

I don’t really care.

Nicole Hennessy is a poet and journalist from Cleveland, Ohio. Her first poetry collection, Gypsy Queen, was released by Crisis Chronicles Press in early 2019.  Her previous publications include Black Rabbit, a nonfiction profile of poet and artist Tom Kryss. Nicole also co-founded the underground art and literary bimonthly, Miser Magazine. Her work has appeared in local and regional publications, and she was recently recognized as a Wild Wmn by the LA-based women’s artistic and wellness collective of the same name. Nicole is also mom to a spirited three-year-old boy. She’s probably cuddled up at home watching cartoons.

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