Cleveland 20/20: A Snapshot of the City’s Character

As the culmination of a yearlong community photography project honoring the Library’s 150th anniversary, Cleveland 20/20: A Photographic Exploration of Cleveland depicts the essence of our city by showcasing the work of local photographers. The free exhibition is on display in Main Library’s Brett Hall through November 2020.

“This exhibition shows the diversity of life in Cleveland,” says Aaron Mason, Director of Outreach and Programming Services. “The culture of our city is defined by its neighborhoods, and Cleveland 20/20 shows how these neighborhoods set the mood of the city and demonstrate our character. It’s a great slice of life.”

Cleveland 20/20 displays an eclectic array of photographs showing the city’s architecture, infrastructure, transportation, and green spaces, as well as residents at work, worship, and play. In one image, a tattooed woman stands in the grass at Edgewater Park. In another, a man washes his bicycle in a Collinwood car wash. Elsewhere in the exhibit, photographs feature subjects as varied as a pallet of vegetables in an Asiatown alley, protective gloves hanging on a clothesline in Slavic Village, the Goodyear Blimp disappearing behind a building downtown, and a couple dancing outside Playhouse Square.

“We set out to evoke the sense of traveling through the city rather than arranging the photographs strictly by neighborhood,” says Lisa Kurzner, principal of Kurzner Arts, who curated Cleveland 20/20. “We hope all Clevelanders will come and see some landscape or milestone in these images they identify with, whether that’s a physical place or the evocation of what they love.”

Portrait of Cleveland

Cleveland 20/20 was made possible through the Library’s partnership with the Cleveland Print Room, a nonprofit community darkroom, education center, workspace, and photographic gallery that spearheaded the project. In addition to local photographers, the Cleveland Print Room invited nationally renowned, Jamaica-born photojournalist Ruddy Roye to play a featured role in the project, both artistically and in terms of community engagement and education.

Roye, who is based in New York, explored and documented Cleveland throughout 2019. When visitors step into Brett Hall, they’re greeted by Roye’s nearly life-sized portrait of boys posing with bicycles in a cemetery. Among other photographs, he also contributed striking, large-scale portraits that invite visitors to engage with their fellow Clevelanders. The portraits offer a way, Kurzner says, “of portraying the everyman of Cleveland, which is important.”

On his approach to documenting Cleveland, Roye explained in his artist statement that he “wanted to treat one of the most segregated cities in the United States as if it were a person.”

“The turning point for me was when I began to sit with residents of the city, learning from them their history, walking with them to photograph their stories,” he continued. “I began to slow down. I found myself photographing less but reaching for a deeper meaning behind the stories I was trying to document.”

Library patrons can learn more about Roye and his process by viewing filmmaker Robert Banks’s film Ruddy 20/20, which plays on a continuous loop in a separate room in Brett Hall. This 15-minute film documents Roye’s process and philosophy surrounding his work in Cleveland, showcases some behind-the-scenes moments from the creation of his photographs, and includes his forthright observations about the city and its residents.

Showcasing Local Talent

The Cleveland Print Room recruited nearly two dozen local photographers of varying ages, races, genders, and experience levels to participate in this project. The diversity of participating artists reflects the diversity inherent in the city, resulting in a collection of photographs that portray a nuanced, multifaceted view of Cleveland.

“One of our greatest strengths as an organization is to honor and recognize talent in our community by preserving and displaying their work,” Mason explains, adding that all photographs in the larger Cleveland 20/20 project, including thousands not on display in Brett Hall, will be added to the Library’s Photograph Collection. “The work generated by this project goes hand in hand with the work of other Cleveland Public Library departments, such as the Ohio Center for the Book and the Cleveland Digital Public Library.”

“Libraries are a civic commons in the 21st century, and having an art exhibit here gives people the space to consider the culture and to consider change,” Kurzner adds. “In the process, we were able to show off the skills and potential of photographers in the Cleveland community while also giving young people a voice by putting cameras in their hands.”

Kurzner is referring to the student photographers invited to participate in Cleveland 20/20 through the Cleveland Print Room’s Teen Institute. Including teen photographers not only helped capture the perspective of the younger generation, but it also provided promising young photographers with valuable experience, skills, encouragement, and validation—in short, to give them a voice.

The Voice of Cleveland

The offerings in Brett Hall express the city’s story not only through images and video, but through oral histories, as well. Four digital kiosks throughout the exhibition display stories from the CPL150 Storytelling Project, a separate initiative led by ideastream to help share Clevelanders’ stories in their own words.

At the kiosks, visitors can scroll through stories produced by ideastream featuring local residents. These stories are presented via both video and text and include: an amateur typographer sharing his passion for fonts, a mother and son conversing about the future, a woman reflecting on her community through the lens of her family’s jewelry shop, and more. (Ideastream-produced stories may be viewed online.) Kiosks in Brett Hall also include audio files from additional interviews gathered by Library staff.

Visitors interested in an interactive experience can share their favorite Cleveland places or neighborhoods by adding a note to a special station set up on the southeast wall in Brett Hall. Finally, racks of complimentary postcards featuring images from the larger Cleveland 20/20 project allow visitors to take a bit of the experience home with them.

“There’s so much explore that we hope people come more than once to discover something new and surprising and each time,” Kurzner says.

Cleveland 20/20 Artists

Tim Arai
Robert Banks
Enahjae Beasley
Stephen Bivens
Bridget Caswell
Matthew Chasney
Hadley K. Conner
Destanee Cruz
Billy Delfs

Shelly Duncan
Maria Fallon
Aja Grant
Diana Hlywiak
Da’Shaunae Jackson
Adam Jaenke
Jef Janis
Félix Látimer
Daniel Levin

Greg Martin
Christopher Mason
Gabrielle Murray
Owen Rodemann
Ruddy Roye
Michael Tsegaye
Shari Wilkins

Cleveland 20/20: A Photographic Exploration of Cleveland is free and open to the public. The exhibition is located in Brett Hall on the first floor of Main Library at 325 Superior Avenue and is open from 10am to 6pm Monday through Saturday. The exhibition is sponsored by PNC and the George Gund Foundation and is held in partnership with the Cleveland Print Room, ideastream, and the Cleveland Institute of Art.