Headshot 2, FotoFocus Cincinnati
Bruce Bennett, courtesy of the artist.

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Through the Looking Glass

Posted on November 2, 2021

Self Love documents moments of recognition between artist and subject as photographer Bruce Bennett spent time in a third-grade public elementary classroom.

Our children are living in an unprecedented overlap of art and technology: They have nearly unlimited access to cameras — that is, they see parents and peers using smartphone cameras to document their everyday lives — but they likely have nearly zero access to film cameras, and no real awareness or understanding of that tradition of image making. Photography, as an art form, is both ubiquitous and illusory. 

That’s one reason why artist Bruce Bennett decided to go into a third grade classroom at Northside’s Chase Elementary. While there, he introduced his own approach to photography and took photographs of the children as they encountered his artistic process. Bennett observed the students as they observed him, and his photos document that moment of mutual recognition. The result of this visit is Bennett’s photography show Self Love, now on view at Sidewinder Coffee in Northside through the end of November.

FotoFocus spoke to Bennett about the experience of working with these young students to create his documentary exhibition:

FotoFocus: How did you arrive at the title “Self Love”?

Bruce Bennett: I put the “self” and “love” together because I am capturing these beautiful portraits of the students, but I want the students to also see that their truest moments are important, as well.

These titles always come from my real life. It’s trying to find love in your own space. And the children are in their own space, in their own state of mind, in their creative bubble. And we all need some type of inspiration, some type of love. And love comes from the inside of us first. 

FF: What distinction do you draw between portrait and documentary styles of photography?

BB: When I think of the two, I think of documentary photography as the truest form. If I’m in documentary mode, there are no pauses; it’s a continuation of capturing the true moment in time.

[I took] some of the portraits in the classroom, but some I took individually with the children. Their expressions, their interests — you can see those characteristics just in their pose. You can see if they’re nervous or happy. 

FF: What conversations did you have with the students during your visit?

BB: When they saw my camera, one of the main questions was “Is it digital or film?” And it’s film. They’re children, [and] the only people who really know about film are people who were born before the ’90s. Teaching them film and teaching them what happens with film brings them into my life.

FF: So they are young enough that they might not have ever interacted with a professional photographer before. Or even seen a film camera.

BB: Exactly. I thought that I was bringing another perspective of art and something that they might not have necessarily really seen. If the children see the photographs that I took of them, I want them to look back and maybe find inspiration in their own life and skill and in this world. That’s the main goal: to find these things.

It’s really that simple: just showing each human being what skills they have. 

You can spend time with each image from Bennett’s Self Love collection on his site, and visit the photographs in the neighborhood they feature — with a latte to sustain your perusal.

Self Love, through November, Sidewinder Coffee, 4181 Hamilton Ave., Northside 

As the Covid-19 pandemic reshaped our world, FotoFocus had to pivot. First, by pledging part of its 2020 Biennial budget to financially support more than 100 Participating Venues and Partners in the region’s art community through FotoFocus Emergency Art Grants, and further, by enhancing other pathways to support lens-based art and engage the public in accordance with its mission. Sidewinder Coffee was one such venue.