Portfolio Center and Fernbank Museum: Going for the Gold in Atlanta
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.
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.
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.)
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.
Photo: Georgia’s Gold Music Makers by Nathan Stoan
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.]
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.
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.
Photo: Wealth, Power & Beauty by Courtney Lankford