Germantown photographer brings images of Northwest Philly to Chicago

When Germantown photographer Tieshka Smith found herself with the chance to exhibit work in Oak Park, Illinois as a featured artist in honor of Black History Month she was left wondering how she would be able to absorb the cost of mounting an out-of-state exhibit.


So she turned to crowdfunding platform Indiegogo to raise the cash — fast. 

With just a day of her campaign remaining, she has already surpassed her $500 goal.

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The Chicago-native who blogs under the moniker, Photography Without the Pretense, says she’s amazed by the outpouring of support.

“I’m excited to be taking a piece of the Northwest [Philadelphia] to my hometown,” says Smith.

Seeing friend and local photographer Gary Reed launch a successful Kickstarter campaign last spring to mount a solo show at Germantown’s IMPeRFeCT Gallery inspired her to try crowdfunding for herself, she says.

Smith’s show will be called “This Is My Home: Photographs from 2011-2014,” and will run through Feb. 28 in the Oak Park Public Library’s community space.

Featured will be two photo series completed in 2011: “The Kids of Ya-Ya’s Place” and “The Fabulous Seven of Lovett Memorial Library.”

A second installation of photos will be located in Oak Park’s Village Hall.

For more than a decade, the Oak Park Area Arts Council has aimed to showcase the work of an African-American artist. This year, the collaboration included the Oak Park Public Library. Cynthia Landrum, an assistant director at the library and a longtime friend of Smith’s, brought her photos to the attention of the arts organization.

“I had a chance to review her work and thought it was really quite wonderful,” says Camille Wilson-White, executive director of the Oak Park Area Arts Council.

Crowdfunding, it’s all in who you know

In return for donating to a crowdfunding cause on a site like Indiegogo contributors usually receive a small gift for their pledges. Smith offers her donors perks like blank notecards with images from the show and signed exhibition prints and posters.

Indiegogo allows project creators to keep whatever funds are raised (minus the platform’s fees), even if they fall short of their campaign target.

A successful online campaign relies on a strong social media presence, she says.

She has an online presence across numerous social networking services including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google + and Tumblr, plus online photo-sharing communities like Flickr and 500px.

“Everyday I’m working some, if not all, of that,” she says. “I think social media is hugely important. Artists can share in other places now that they couldn’t 20 years ago — at the cost of WiFi connection.”

The downside, Smith says, is that the ability to share images instantaneously translates into a lot more thoughtlessness about what is put out there for the world to see. And while exposure via the Internet is great, artists can only rely on social media to a certain point.

Smith insists that an artist still needs to provide physical evidence by hanging shows and having bodies come in to view the displayed work.

One component in what she calls her multilayered strategy is neighborhood volunteer efforts. Smith serves on the board of the Germantown Artist Roundtable. Involvement with the monthly gathering is vital, she says.

“You got to have that real time connection. We support each other, go to each others’ shows and buy each others’ stuff.”

With Indiegogo, Smith has been able to see who is behind the donations to put on her Oak Park show. Of the 20 donors, all but two were friends or fellow members of the Germantown Artist Roundtable. 

Connecting G-Town and Chi-Town

Heading to Oak Park will be a kind of homecoming for Smith, who moved to the east coast from Chicago’s South Side in 1999.

Germantown’s faces, places and spaces are the primary subject matter of the coming exhibit. Smith says she hopes viewers will connect with the images “mainly to know there’s more going on outside of Oak Park.”

Like Mt. Airy, Oak Park has a history of racial integration and efforts to resist blockbusting and white flight. 

Smith says her photos are intended to spark conversations about what builds resilience in children in the face of recent racial tensions and school closings. Smith says the images show how children benefit from long term care givers and other non-economic community resources.

Her photo series taken in front of Mt. Airy’s Lovett Memorial Library demonstrate a need to understand that people use public space in ways not sanctioned, she said.

Some of the photographs that will be in the exhibits have been previously shown locally at the iMPeRFeCT Gallery. Following the close of the show in Oak Park, Smith hopes to exhibit the two 2011 photo series in their entirety in Philadelphia.

With a fundraising victory under her belt, Smith says she would turn to Indiegogo again to fund future exhibitions outside Pennsylvania.

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