Portfolio Center and Fernhank Museum

Portfolio Center and Fernbank Museum: Going for the Gold in Atlanta

Written by in Events

Photo: Basking in the Glory of Gold:  L to R standing: Jerry Burns, Jake Herrle, Hank Richardson,Chris Low, Nathan Stoan, Erin O’Connor, Eric Dewyngaert……bottom row: Artem Nazarov, Leigh Anna Thompson

When James Hays  of Fernbank Museum of Natural History met up with Portfolio Center’s (PC) photography director Jerry Burns at about collaborating on major travelling exhibit coming to his museum, Burns knew a golden opportunity when he saw one.

“Student projects rarely get seen by the public,” said Burns, director of photography at PC and a leader in Atlanta photography himself. “Their work often exists only within the walls of the school, seen by instructors, peers and recruiters. In this case, we conceived an exhibition and publicity campaign for a leading non-profit that was seen by thousands of museums goers and tens of thousands of commuters. It had to be good as gold—and it was.”

Atlanta-based Portfolio Center has risen to become one of the nation’s premier post-graduate creative communication schools with alum at leading design offices and ad agencies across the nation. Its irrepressible spokesman and indefatigable Hank Richardson is a ubiquitous presence at industry conferences and events (many think he is one of five quintuplets). The satisfaction of working for a beloved public institution and gaining wide public exposure was the students’ reward. But to earn it, PC’s nine-person creative team had a lot of work to do. So rather than making the effort a random assignment, Jerry Burns and instructor Jake Herrle of Atlanta’s historic Cabbagetown built an entire class around the assignment.

The photography exhibition, which ran from September 28, 2009 through January 3, 2010, told the story of gold’s historic influence and presence in Georgia. It complemented Gold a touring exhibition (now at the Cincinnati Museum) that explores the cultural significance and fascination with the enduring symbol of wealth, power and beauty.

Gold Medal Winner Photograph by Chris Low

Photo: Gold Medal Winner Photograph by Chris Low

“The exhibition looked deeply into how people in Georgia have interacted with the mineral and tied directly to the GOLD exhibit” said James Hays, Fernbank’s Vice President of Exhibitions. “For instance, our visitors will see in the exhibition GOLD a coin minted in Dahlonega more than a hundred years ago and photographs of modern gold panning for gold in Dahlonega.”

Georgia’s Heart of Gold photo exhibit featured 41 photographs from seven students exhibiting a wide variety of techniques. Each student chose their own theme, analyzing everything from gold medal winners to removable gold teeth, modern day gold seekers, local characters around Dahlonega, the gold domed Georgia capitol building (seen in the poster below), gold-plated musicians and jewelry. The student photographers began researching their themes and subjects in April 2009, finishing work in July.

Old gold seeker photograph by Leigh Anna Thompson

Photo: Old gold seeker photograph by Leigh Anna Thompson

As photographers’ work began to wind down, Portfolio Center students Erin O’Connor (writer) and Eric Dewyngaert (graphic and exhibit designer) mapped out the communication strategy to “sell” the idea to the non-profit client and to inform the viewing public on the artist intent. Erin developed the exhibition name, wrote the brand strategy, press materials and interviewed each photographer for their bio and artist statement. Eric put together the entire visual package including exhibit boards and street banners. (See description of each artists’ effort below.)

Georgia's Gold Medalists by Emily Dryde

Photo: Georgia’s Gold Medalists by Emily Dryde

In hindsight, says designer Eric Dewyngaert, perhaps the team’s greatest lesson was that designer and writer should have gotten involved in April, not July after the photography had been conceived and produced. “The communications planning should have started at the beginning of the project, not later” he says looking back. “Communications should never be an afterthought.”

He’s right. But, too often,  it is. Welcome to the real world, graduates. Now, go out there and change it—for the better.

Georgia's Gold Music Makers by Nathan Stoan

Photo: Georgia’s Gold Music Makers by Nathan Stoan

Photographers’ Approach

The photographs of Artem Nazarov and Leigh Anna Thompson focus on the allure of finding gold in Georgia. Nazarov includes portraits of residents who remain fascinated by the treasures found in Georgia, from golden Civil War treasures, to nuggets found in gold mines, to glow of the State Capitol building, topped with gold mined in Georgia. Thompson features members of the Lost Dutchman Mining Association, an organization focused on prospecting and mining for gold. Her series of photographs reveal the continued search for golden treasures in Georgia and the site of the first gold to be found here. [Thompson’s series won a Best in Show in its category at the Atlanta Addy Awards.]

Georgia Capitol Photo by Artem Nazarov

Photo: Georgia Capitol Photo by Artem Nazarov

Justin Keoninh and Courtney Lankford embrace the cultural fascination with gold. Keoninh documented Georgia’s gold grill industry of removable gold teeth, a trend that first started with the hip-hop industry in the 1980s and continues today. Lankford showcases what gold means to individuals through cultural tradition and personal style.

Eddie's Grilz by Justin Keoninh

Photo: Eddie’s Grilz by Justin Keoninh

Emily Dryden, Chris Low and Nathan Stoan reveal gold’s prestige through portraits and action shots of Georgians who have been awarded gold for their achievements. Dryden features the pride of several award-winning athletes and a decorated Navy veteran. Low recognizes gold medal winners from the Olympic Games, Special Olympics and Paralympics. Stoan highlights Georgia’s golden touch on the music industry through a series of portraits of local musicians.

Wealth, Power & Beauty by Courtney Lankford

Photo: Wealth, Power & Beauty by Courtney Lankford

  1. 02

    […] miss Atlanta writer Matt Porter’s feature on the PC photography students’ Gold Exhibit on the Neenah Paper […]

  2. 02

    […] miss Atlanta writer Matt Porter’s feature about the PC photography students’ Gold Exhibit on the Neenah Paper […]

  3. 03

    I am really glad that I got to experience this class and show. It was one of my favorite projects I have done so far. The gold miners are a really fun, quirky group that had lots of crazy stories to tell. Many thanks to Jerry, Jake and Fernbank for making this all possible!

  4. 03

    Students put their heart and soul into this project! It was an awesome opportunity, and I was proud of everyone for rising to the occasion. And Leigh Anna Thompson won Best of Show in the student category of the Atlanta ADDY Awards for her Gold Series of photographs. James and Fernbank, thank you for having faith in us and our students!

  5. 03
    Jerry Burns said:

    What a great opportunity for rising photographic talent. By most accounts this show was seen by 250k people! Big thanks! to Neenah for supporting young talent in the industry!

  6. 03
    Liz Phillips said:

    What a great exhibit! The photographers really told the story of their subjects and made it feel almost as you were right there with them. Beautiful shooting, lighting, and a great variety of subject matter. Way to go Leigh Anna, for taking Best in Show at the Addys, and great job to everyone involved!

  7. 03
    CMSutton said:

    Great article! It’s awesome to see PC recognized for their amazing work. I am definitely going to tweet this and pass it along. Rock on.

  8. 03

    Thanks for the great article, Matt!

  9. 03
    eddie snyder said:

    everyday i enter the doors of portfolio center, i am blown away by the work that surrounds me. i never thought anything could top this constant verve, until i experienced the PC GOLD Photography Exhibit @ Fernbank. The images are beyond outstanding. the power of the exhibit is amazing. And some are already winning awards. bravo to Jerry, Fernbank + the Photographers. You are truly golden.

  10. 03
    Sam harrison said:

    Excellent piece. And this is the kind of exhibit that makes people proud to live in Atlanta, proud of a resource such as Fernbank and proud of a creative school such as Portfolio Center. Applause and congratulations to Fernback, Jerry Burns and the photographers for a great show.

  11. 03
    Chris Low said:

    Thank you for the article! This really is a great exhibit and it just keeps getting better, I had no Idea it was on the road! Jerry, Fernbank, PC, Jake, fellow photographers, thank you so much for making this such a rad project. I am very proud to be part of it!

  12. 03
    Peter Hobbs said:

    WOW! Well done students and to Jerry for getting this one together. This work is absolutely stunning. It is a rare to find a school that has the students and staff “leading the way” for the industry at large – and Portfolio Center does this and more. Gold medals all round.

  13. 03

    This was a great experience to direct this project. The photographers work really made the exhibit shine. It has definitely prepared me for future projects to direct. And thanks to Neenah Paper’s Think Ink app, I was able to build the exhibit’s entire color scheme off of a simple iPhone image. Thanks for making my life a little easier!

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