Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Another Review

Our town: Pittsburghers' snapshots capture what's important in their neighborhoods
Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Anyone who claims to really know Pittsburgh, its neighborhoods, its suburbs, its not-far-off rural areas, is probably kidding himself.

Pittsburgh is the sum of its parts, a stitched-together Terrible Towel of shared loves and hates, a place where the best way to give directions often involves mentioning places that don't exist anymore.

There are sincere little towns and hamlets and bustling city streets, but how many residents of the collective areas known as Western Pennsylvania actually ever wander beyond the boundaries of those little towns or city streets?

Part of the charm of "Seeing Pittsburgh," a project launched more than a year ago to help celebrate the city's 250th birthday, is its grass-roots effort to capture what's important in any particular neighborhood.

Ron Baraff and Tiffani Emig of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area in Homestead gave cameras to 44 people from various walks of life. The directions were simple: shoot photos of what's important to you in your neighborhood. They shot buildings, friends, pets, ladies making pierogies, wrestling matches, gardens, squirrels, weeds, traffic ...

"One person was a professional photographer and some folks had never shot anything before," said Mr. Baraff, Rivers of Steel director of museum collections and archives. "The equipment varied; some of the best [photos] came to us from the people using disposable cameras."

Participants were recruited from 11 communities ranging from large bustling areas such as Squirrel Hill and Mt. Lebanon to tiny Presston -- a small community within Stowe -- and the Mount Washington co-op of Chatham Village.

Organizers found some photographers through community organizations. Others were found in coffee shops or other local gathering places. They offered disposable cameras, although some of the participants chose to use their own cameras and Christine Bethea, who lives in the Hill District, even used the tiny camera in her cell phone.

The resulting photographs, more than 300, were displayed at the Rivers of Steel center in an exhibit that closed recently. The project also yielded a book, "Seeing Pittsburgh," which can be found in local stores and online, as well as a slideshow on the center's blog on the Web site at riversofsteel.com.

"Seeing Pittsburgh" is about the grit of reality. One of the youngest photographers, Beechview Elementary student Nick Darke, submitted a photo of his neighborhood's abandoned public swimming pool.

"It was not just the positive," said Mt. Lebanon's Nita Fandray, whose favorite photo is a white Honda parked with its passenger-side wheels nearly on the sidewalk.

"Parking on sidewalks, curbs, grass (even front yards!) runs rampant in Mt. Lebanon," she wrote in the caption.

Amber Adkins, a teen who lives on the Hill, shot a photo of her friends goofing around on the swings. But she also took one of a boarded-over theater, and in the caption lamented the lack of recreation options for young people.

Not surprisingly, some of the kids chose to shoot their schools. In the book, Colfax student Madeline Colker has a strong photo of dismissal time at the Squirrel Hill elementary school.

Newlyweds Melanie Rankin Groves and her husband, Steve Groves, had a different take on Squirrel Hill. Her featured photo shows the bright reflection of fruits and vegetables in the plate-glass window of a market on Murray Avenue. Mr. Groves' photo shows the neon sign for Little's Shoes, an icon in the area. Both grew up in rural Butler County and found themselves drawn to the city, she said.

Mr. Baraff refers to himself as a "gumbander," someone who grows up in Pittsburgh, leaves in early adulthood but chooses to return. He attended Mt. Lebanon schools and now lives in Squirrel Hill.

"We wanted to know what makes Squirrel Hill Squirrel Hill? What is the North Side?" he said.

He cited Presston, a company town built around the manufacturing of railroad cars and sandwiched between railroad tracks and the Ohio River.

"I lived here a good portion of my life without knowing it exists," he said. "You could see it from Route 65, only two streets but four blocks long. And every roof line is exactly the same.

Jim Levendosky of McKees Rocks is a self-employed artist who took some striking photographs of neighbors at work and play. Although he has a 35mm camera, he chose to use a disposable one to shoot mostly candids.

"One of my favorites is the pierogi ladies,'' he said.

The photo, which is included in the book, shows a line of hair-netted women and a couple of men working the floury assembly line. Two other photos are striking portraits of musicians: one, a disheveled drummer, the other, an accordion player.

"The only thing I regretted was not being able to include more people," Mr. Levendosky said.

If there is a signature display in the book, however, it's Nate Boguszewski's side-by-side photographs of a studio-wrestling-style bout in Lawrenceville. On the left, a referee checks out what appears to be a free-for-all. On the right is a shot of the crowd sitting dispassionately on folding chairs.

Mr. Baraff said that while the exhibit has closed in Homestead, it will likely travel. Folks in Chatham Village have planned workshops around the photos and the concept they represent, and a Downtown gallery also might have a display.

"This project was never really meant to end," Mr. Baraff said. "What we're hoping is that pieces of the exhibit can travel, and, hopefully, other neighborhoods will want to be part of it."

Maria Sciullo can be reached at msciullo@post-gazette.com or 412-851-1867.
First published on February 10, 2009 at 12:00 am

Saturday, November 15, 2008

another review for Seeing Pittsburgh!!!!!!!!!!!

"Seeing Pittsburgh" through foreign eyes

ThebookNew book helps answer one woman's questions about her adopted city

by Silvia Duarte

When you are a foreigner, it doesn’t matter where you go, you are asked common questions. Where are you from? How long have you been here? What are you doing here? Questions that people from almost anyone around the world could ask.

After I came from Guatemala to Pittsburgh the questions were the same. But one of them surprised me until now. Bus drivers, academics, waiters, my English teachers, and other foreigners often ask: “Do you like Pittsburgh?” and not just once, many times.

Oh my God, what do you answer when you have had a bad day after only living here one week? What do you answer one month after if an employee – from Pittsburgh – of a fast food restaurant shouts at you because they can’t understand your “sort of English.” I like where I live, my neighbors, Downtown streets, the bridges, the parks, but how can I really know each neighborhood? How can I speak in general about the city when it has so many particulars?

What is a city if not the neighbors’ perceptions? And can I understand those perceptions if I’m not there?

Many times I thought that it would be nice to visit different neighborhoods, share with the people, discover what they think about Pittsburgh and, just after that, give my opinion.

Voila! Two weeks ago I was handed the book “Seeing Pittsburgh” that allowed me to visually explore corners of the city that I didn’t know. It also presented me faces and people’s perceptions, contemporaries like you and me.

The book is part of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area exhibit called "Seeing Pittsburgh." It also includes video and archival footage.

On one hand the book is a tribute to the celebration of Pittsburgh’s 250th anniversary yet is also a walk through 11 of the city’s 90 neighborhoods. The introduction explains its mission: “armed only with cameras – digital, film, disposable and even camera phone - and the instructions to show us what defines their neighborhood, 44 Pittsburghers became the Seeing Pittsburgh Project.”

A little more than a year ago, the editors – Ron Baraff and Tiffani Emig – contacted residents of different neighborhoods through community groups. Children and adults were chosen to shoot and summarize their photos in few words. The result? Magnificent pictures of the collective imagination.

Is it a risk that the neighbors just capture only the beautiful and hide the dirty clothes? Yes, it’s a risk. But who can say that perception about your surroundings is more than one invention of your experience and your personal belonging?

With “Seeing Pittsburgh” I walked through “my city” from east to west, from north to south. I looked at scenes that could belong to all the neighborhoods – which doesn’t have beautiful trees and squirrels that eat there. And others that show big differences – such as how to escape to the historical background of the North Side.

Do you want to know about some of the images that the Pittsburghers photographed? And how they describe their image? Let’s go neighborhood by neighborhood. In alphabetical order, like they appear in the book.

In Beechview, a girl who captured her school road wrote that her neighborhood “is a great place for families.” Another photographer there described Evelia, who works in Tienda La Jimenez, as making “the best tamales in all Pittsburgh.” Also, a boy laments because the swimming pool where he used to swim, “now all it is used for is graffiti.”

In Forest Hills, the “atom smasher” (a former Westinghouse facility) stands out against cottony sky and some mothers formed an informal club while they await their children’s’ buses.

The jazz flows out of the windows of an historical building on Centre Avenue in the Hill District. And while a man waits for the bus, a woman relaxes on her porch on a typical American evening. A couple of pages after, a group of teenagers transform a swing into a human banana split. The young photographer writes, “it’s a way to show our friendship as young people.”


In Lawrenceville, a neighbor remembers the stone streets of his childhood. Another neighbor attempts to take care of an abandoned next door while the fall comes to dress up the 40th Street Bridge.

Good music plus community life plus Ukrainians and Polish traditions -mass, priests and periogies- abound in Mckees Rocks.

The Mt. Lebanon's photographers chose to capture schools -Lincoln and Herbert Clark Hoover - traffic rush-hour at Washington Road, badly parked cars and a play area that the neighbors defend from construction machines.

Chatham Village was captured in full bloom: beautiful flowers, a sweet squirrel and a nice courtyard. The neighborhood’s “oldest resident” and children celebrating Independence Day show strong community spirit.

And then comes Central Northside, Dish's neighborhood, my neighborhood. Five photographers (Dish's Frank Kownacki among them) captured this diverse, polemic, nice, tranquil and sometimes dangerous place that I like so much. Maybe I'm wrong, but the Central Northside photographers stand out from the others thanks to their honesty. They found images and used blunt words even if some people might not like their point of shoot.

There is the beautiful Tabernacle Baptist Church and the man who describes himself as "hungry, ugly and broke.” He doesn't have a home, but he has dozens of streets and an entire world in his sleeping bag. Just two pages divide a house restoration from the teenager who spits her soul and says: "We like our neighborhood because it is pretty and fun. But it’s dangerous over here, people shoot.” Together are the girl at the children’s garden and the polemic corridor – the site of the Masonic Hall and the Garden Theater. There is the modern Mattress Factory and a vacant lot on Jacksonia Street. Contrast and beauty, that is Northside.

The book’s trip leads to Point Breeze and a stained glass artwork piece on the side of the Point Brugge Cafe restaurant. One page after is the Frick Museum and, at the end, the Frick park where “it’s almost like a peek into another world”.

The cameras’ lenses shoot South Side in the morning although for me it's difficult not to imagine its streets at night. While a priest captured his congregation, another photographer shows T&T;, one of the oldest hardware stores. The beautiful mural at the Terminal Building puts a nice period on the South Side visit.

The last neighborhood is Squirrel Hill. Between the images you can see the Big Blue Slide at the playground in Frick Park, “a central role in the childhoods (or adult hoods, as the case may be) of many Pittsburghers.” A colorful vegetable store, Forbes Avenue businesses and one of the oldest houses in the neighborhood finish our Pittsburgh view.

“Seeing Pittsburgh” offers a large slice of the city and its people. And when I leave here to return home I will bring back my own images of this city - the diaspora and the reunion, the strong feeling of neighborhood, garden grills, libraries, museums, amazing architecture, icee balls, people who say hello while they enjoy summer evenings in their stoops, corner stores, parks, farmers’ markets, concerts, people helping others, season changes, Strip District and fun.

Yes, folks, I like what I have seen of Pittsburgh!

For information on purchasing the book and seeing the exhibit go here. Read their bloghere.

Journalist Silvia Duarte was born in Guatemala and currently resides one block from Dish headquarters. Read her stories here and here.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Great New Pittsburgh History Sites

New web and blog sites for Charlie McCollester and his new book - The Point of Pittsburgh


Check them out - might learn a little something. 

Sunday, October 26, 2008

GOTV and bonus material

Sometimes it is important to nudge people a bit so...

GO VOTE ON THE 4th of November

I am not telling who to vote for, just that it is your right, your duty and your privilege to do so.

Now that the call of citizenship is out of the way - here is a glimpse of our regions industrial history as a reward. 

Monday, September 22, 2008

Beechview Community Paint Day

On Saturday 9/20, Beechview community members came out to help paint Beechview’s newest mural at Sip N Spin Laundromat on Broadway Avenue. It was a fun event with a great turn-out.

Thanks to Ryder Henry for all of his artistic endeavors and patience and of course to Rep. Chelsea Wagner and her staff for all of their enthusiastic backing and coordination of the mural project.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Happenings Abound!!!!!!!!!!!

Seeing Pittsburgh @ The Bost Building
Now through January 31, 2009 In celebration of Pittsburgh's 250th anniversary, Rivers of Steel worked with 44 Pittsburgher's from eleven neighborhoods to produce the Seeing Pittsburgh project. Armed with cameras and instructions to show us what defines their community, these residents photographed the good, the bad, the new, the old, the physical, the emotional...everything that defines their neighborhood.
Visit http://www.riversofsteel.com/ for hours and directions.

Bring a copy of this email when you visit the exhibit in September and receive 10% off the Seeing Pittsburgh book.

Pittsburgh Project REMIX
@ The Pump House
One weekend only! Thursday, September 18 - Saturday, September 20 @ 7:30 pm
Sunday, September 21 @ 3:00 pm A performance by award-winning director and playwright Megan Carney. Join us to hear stories about civic identity, changing neighborhoods, and the promise of the future in a new play performed by a ensemble of professional Pittsburgh actors. Each performance includes a community conversation with special guests and a chance to add your own story to the project.
For more information, visit http://www.mcarneyprojects.com/Pittsburgh_Project_REMIX.html.

Wheeling Through History @ Heinz History Center
Saturday, September 20 @ 9:00 am - Noon As part of the Young Preservationists Association's Pittsburgh Regional Youth Heritage Festival, Wheeling Through History Bike Tours feature Pittsburgh neighborhoods, history, and the progressive sport of cycling. Join Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area and Venture Outdoors for a bike tour of Pittsburgh's rich industrial history through the South Side and Four Mile Run.
Visit http://www.youngpreservationists.org/youth-heritage-festival for more information.

Pittsburgh Neighborhood Narratives Screening
@ The Pump House
Friday, October 3 @ 7:30 pm Greetings from Pittsburgh: Neighborhood Narratives is a series of nine short films produced as part of the Pittsburgh 250 celebration. Each of the films takes place in a different neighborhood, offering a unique portrait of the culture, history and character of their setting.
For more information about the Narratives, please visit http://www.pghneighborhoodnarratives.com/.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Another review

From the Pitt News:

Neighborhoods shown in Homestead exhibit

Giles Howard

Contributing Editor

Published: Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Updated: Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Located on Homestead’s Eighth Avenue is a national historic landmark operated by the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area. Known as the Bost building, it was built as a hotel in the late 19th century and served as the headquarters of striking steelworkers during the Homestead Strike in 1892.

But today, it is home to a regional museum that recently opened a new exhibit entitled, “Seeing Pittsburgh.”

Since it opened to the public on July 9, Seeing Pittsburgh has featured photographs, artwork and audio recordings from 11 different Pittsburgh neighborhoods.

“This actually evolved over a number of years of really observing those small and very interesting and often topographically defined neighborhoods in the city,” said Ron Baraff, director of museum collections and archives at Rivers of Steel.

Baraff, along with co-organizer Tiffani Emig, said they thought about including Oakland in the exhibit, but it just didn’t work out.

“We picked certain types of communities that we really wanted, and once we were able to get into those communities, we had to follow that path,” he said.

They wanted to profile post-industrial and industrial neighborhoods, white-collar suburbs and blue-collar suburbs as well as neighborhoods that had remained “fairly constant” throughout the years, he said.

Once they decided on the 11 types of neighborhoods they wanted to profile, Baraff and Emig approached community groups in each neighborhood to find photographers.

“We didn’t want to pick the photographers, what we wanted to do was to have the community decide who should be involved,” said Baraff.

Stephen Grebinski, a Pitt senior living in Squirrel Hill, was one of the 44 photographers who contributed to the project.

Grebinski said he learned of Rivers of Steel in an architectural preservation class he was taking and started work on the project in February or March.

It took about three weeks of going through old photos and taking new ones for him to finish his part of the project.

“I just submitted some stuff., I wasn’t sure what they were looking for,” said Grebinski.

Grebinski, like the other photographers, had to fill out a log explaining his entries. This included what the photo was of and how it represented the photographer’s neighborhood.

Grebinski’s photo of a gate in a chain-link fence made it into the Squirrel Hill portion of the exhibit. He said the photo represents how people have such small yards in Squirrel Hill that they feel the need to put up a fence and cherish it.

“I wish it was deeper than that, but it’s not,” said Grebinski.

He said he’s participated in photo exhibitions before, but never in this way.

“I haven’t really collaborated with some giant group organization [before], and I kind of liked it.”

Admission to the Bost building is free to the public, and the Seeing Pittsburgh exhibit will remain there until Jan.31, but the Bost building is not its final stop. Baraff wants to take the exhibit around to different neighborhoods in Pittsburgh.

“What we hope is that this becomes much more of an open-ended project and that other communities want to be involved,” said Baraff.

A book is being released to coincide with the exhibit, and Rivers of Steel is also involved in creating a series of cellphone tours for neighborhoods in the Pittsburgh area.

“We want [Pittsburghers] to understand themselves a little better, to understand their neighbors a little better,” said Baraff.