Ritchie White's family has been in the Columbus area for more than a century. The local photographer has spent his career capturing the people who make his hometown, home. This summer, however, he's up to something different.
With the help of Katie Evans, a summer intern from Auburn University, White has embarked on a quest to make a visual representation of our community. The Local100 Project is a heartfelt, hometown, work of art that White hopes will showcase the best of Columbus- its people.
White and Evans sat down with The Columbusite to discuss the Local100 Project, why they feel it's important, and what visitors to the upcoming exhibit can expect.
Q: What made you want to do this project?
With creatives, the general rule is that you should do a personal project every couple of years. Just to have something to inspire you or to recreate yourself a bit. It's good to do something outside of your norm. I always have a couple of different projects lined up, or ideas I'm rolling around in the back of my head.
I have a good friend who I mentored in photography for awhile. He is a missionary, and just really smart guy. I mentored him and then we became really great friends. He's gone on to become a motivational speaker at photography conferences all over the world. When he's back in town, we get together and bounce ideas off of each other.
He said to me, "I have this idea for a personal project. I know that you're not going to like it, but I'm going to tell you anyway." He told me about the idea for the Local100. I liked the idea, but at first it seemed like a lot of work and something I just couldn't take on at the time. I just put it on the shelf for awhile.
Then, Katie here called me and said, "Hey, I'd like to do an internship for the summer. Would you be willing for me to come spend the summer working for you?"
I knew this was the perfect way for me to do the project. I wouldn't be doing it without her help this summer. The timing was perfect, and we've been able to really knock it out this summer.
Q: Katie, what made you want to get involved?
Well, my first day here we had lunch with the guy who came up with the idea for the project. He pitched a few different projects and this one was my favorite one. I come from a big family and they all live here in Columbus. This is just something I'm used to and I like to hear about. I love the people here, so this is the perfect project for me to be involved with locally.
Q: Okay Ritchie, back to you. How did you know that Columbus was the right location for the project?
As a lifelong Columbusite and fourth generation local business owner, my roots run deep in this community. I've been privileged to grow up here, and have chosen to raise my family here. Columbus keeps growing and changing, but one factor doesn't change: incredible individuals.
I am a fourth generation entrepreneur and business owner in Columbus. I have a lot of connections here and I love Columbus. I just thought it was the perfect project, seeing that my family has been here for at least 100 years. It's nice to be able to pull these people out and kind of spotlight these members of our community.
Q: How has the response been from local people?
It's been really cool. The first day we launched the project and began asking for applicants, we put a little box at the bottom of the form where they could tell us something about interesting themselves. It even says it's optional. We never expected what we've gotten back from people. We have amazing essays back from our participants about their lives. After reading all of these beautiful stories, we have decided to include them in the exhibit as well.
Q: Can you tell me more about the exhibit?
Sure. It will be here, in my office off 13th beside Wicked Hen. We'll have everyone's pictures hanging along with whatever story they included about their life. It will be open to the public and we'll invite the participants and their families to come and see the work displayed. Each of the participants will go home with a print of their image as a thanks for participating.
Q: What's your timeline like?
We don't have a date set yet, but we want to wrap it up as soon as possible. We'd like to get it done by the end of the summer, and have the exhibit as soon as we can. We've photographed many of the participants already, and our timing will just depend on how long it takes us to get scheduling to match with our 100 participants. We've seen many already.
Q: How are you hoping the project will impact your business?
A: I've been in my studio for 10 years, and have established myself as a local studio photographer. That being said, people's tastes change as far as what they'd like to see in pictures. I think that recently some of my styles of images in the studio have gotten a bit dated, so this is a way for me to push myself and show another side of me creatively. I'd like for people to see another side of what I can do behind the camera.
Fine art portraits are different than my baby or senior portraits. You know, seniors have more of an edgy and trendy or youthful feel to them. The portraits in our Local100 Project are fine art portraits. The collection of images will be timeless.
Columbus keeps growing and changing, but one factor doesn't change: incredible individuals.
Q: What is your ultimate goal for the project? How do you want it to make people feel?
My hope is that every person will leave with a picture that is different than what they pictured in their head. I want their families to love these images and cherish them forever. I want them to say, "I love this image of my loved one, and our family will have it for generations to come." I want our participants to have a family heirloom when they leave.
Q: Have you approached any other organizations and let them know you're doing this project? A collection of 100 images of community members spanning 100 years seems like it would garner the interest of local museums or community organizations, right?
At this time, we haven't talked to any museums. MidTown Inc. knows that I am doing it, because I am a member of their organization. Other than that, we haven't approached anyone yet. We'd love to see it get some local exposure, and work with an organization to have it on display for longer if possible. We want as many people to see this work about our community as possible.
Q: These prints are beautiful and the result is of incredible quality. Who is doing your prints for you?
Tracy Rogers owns Mastercraft Workshop here in town. He used to work for Lithochrome and was their fine art guy. He's been in the industry for 30-something years. Artists from all over the world send him their original work, and he has this scanner with a camera that he uses to reproduce them. He has a light room where he can pull them up and compare the original versus the prints. He's shown us some originals and prints before and you really, truly, cannot tell them apart. It's amazing.
Lithochrome was owned by Hallmark for many years. When they went out of business, he bought all of their equipment and he and his wife have been doing this for years now. He's local, and I am excited to work with him. He's a friend of mine. I'm glad to have him be a part of this.
We went and met with him and we went through a bunch of options for prints. I wanted something that was high quality that you couldn't buy from anywhere. So we came up with the idea of these prints, and we came up with some samples. He's working with us and is a part of the project. We are actually doing some labor with the prints as well. We are tearing the paper for each of them, and it will be very hands-on. We're also putting a finish on each of the prints that we will hand-roll on each one. It will produce a very neat and different result than what you can find anywhere else.
Q: There are a hundred spots. Are they all different ages? How exactly are you representing the last 100 years with people?
They are all different ages. We have one from each year. Each person's birthday falls between 1918 and 2018. We've taken our 2018 already, she's three weeks old. We have a 1919. He's 99 and is very active on Facebook. He was at D-Day in Normandy.
Q: How many individuals do you already have signed up?
Well, we got 60 applications in the first three days. We're kind of going through what we have and will continue posting the years we still need to find people to represent. For years that we have multiple applicants, we will handpick the ones we'd like to feature.
It's been neat. For 2016, we've had several applicants. They're all 12-18 months old. One of them is a little girl who has been adopted from China. She's two years old and just got here. How cool to showcase a little one who has been adopted into our community?
Q: Can you describe your process for selecting the images?
Each person's session will consist of a handful of looks. We'll pick the best one of each person. Our aim is that when you see the entire collection together, you'll see a wide variety of images. We want our audience to see the personality of each individual and what makes them unique, while also producing a collection of images that go together well as a unit. There is a lot of uniqueness here, and I want people to see that. Our community is a special place, and it's the people that make it what it is. We're excited to share a visual representation of our community with everyone through this project.◼︎
To connect with the Local100 Project visit:
Find Ritchie White on Facebook
#Local100Project on Instagram
All images in this article courtesy of Ritchie White Photography.