Harding students elevate stories of White County

Advanced photography students in Harding University’s Department of Communication are using their talents to focus on the stories of people across White County.

As part of their final project of the semester, the students are being challenged to “Elevate” the community through a photo gallery exhibition that opened April 28.

Adjunct professor of communication Noah Darnell has led the students through the semester-long course. He said the gallery is an effort to refocus on the power of a photograph to be permanent.

“Inspiration for this gallery came from a desire to exercise the photograph’s ability to be something important again: not just an impermanent thing to scroll by on a phone,” Darnell said.

As brainstorming for the gallery began, Darnell, working with junior Macy Pate who was leading the student effort as part of her honors college project, decided on the theme “Elevate,” which they felt would allow students creative freedom for the gallery.

“I presented three options to the class, and after some dialogue we came to the conclusion that ‘Elevate’ was the most positive way to approach the project,” Pate said. “It was helpful to hear everyone’s input, and together I think we came to a really good agreement — that ‘Elevate’ would be the way to draw in and connect with different parts of White County.”

In their gallery exhibitions, students use photography to elevate topics like rural public school systems, generational farming and leadership roles — all in White County. Darnell said the project has forced students into circumstances outside of their comfort zone and into real-world photographic scenarios.

“The safe projects often made within the Harding bubble are easy to find, repetitive and not outward-looking,” Darnell said. “To ‘go into all the world,’ we must actually go out the door, go off campus and go into the world in all that we do, not just when we’re supposed to be out on the occasional service day.”

Pate echoed Darnell’s expectations for students’ work and said the project presents a unique way for students to make connections in the community and learn to document stories that go beyond Harding’s acres.

“Every day we hear how great it is to be at Harding, but we never talk about White County,” Pate said. “It’s almost like we have this ethnocentric way of looking at White County because we are told so often how great Harding is. I think as part of our ‘community of mission,’ we need to involve ourselves in the outside community, even if we are only here for a short time.”

Sophomore Kaleb Turner, whose exhibit examines the positive role the public school system has in alleviating the burden of poverty on students, said the gallery is a small glimpse into the White County communities he grew to love.

“Having grown up in Pangburn for all 19 years of my life, I’ve developed a deep connection to this area, its people and its stories,” Turner said. “Seeing our class make a deliberate effort to document those stories is really incredible. It reminds me that everyone has a story — no matter if you live on a college campus with 2,000 students or live on a country farm with 2,000 cattle.”

Darnell said the gallery will push students to think about the power of their work beyond a simple click of the shutter.

“Documentary work, art, photojournalism: there’s an assumption that they are done for a purpose,” Darnell said. “In that case, should we be expecting great change and earth-shaking returns? Or should we be hoping that one photo reaches one person and they are uplifted? Or some other small truth quietly conveyed? I think it is this moment — the quiet moments we will never realize — that make work like this important.”

The gallery will run through Saturday, May 6.

For more information, call the Harding University Department of Communication at 501.279. 4065.