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A thought provoking and honest photography exhibition, “We are Charlotte,” opened this week at the Light Factory (a Knight Arts grantee) in Uptown Charlotte. It is the culmination of a Student Art Exchange program that high school students from Myers Park, Northwest School of the Arts, West Charlotte and Rocky River High Schools participated.

During the Spring 2012 semester, students worked with a teaching artist from the Light Factory to respond to social issues that affected them, including problems with healthcare, government, racism, the environment, drugs and violence. Teaching artists helped students conduct research and work through the creative process. They pushed students to expand their thinking with questions like “What bothers you about America?” “What worries you about the future?” Students were challenged to express their points-of-view on the American political process and identity.

Portrait wall of “We are Charlotte” at the Light Factory.

The photographic images that resulted offer a unique perspective on community identity and politics. Down both sides of the gallery the students’ photographs focus on social issues affecting them and the Charlotte community, while the back wall of the gallery showcases the faces students felt represented the “real” Charlotte. Many students dealt with themes related to racism, discrimination against women and immigration. Other poignant themes that jump off the wall include drug usage, consumerism and pollution.

Photo by Megan Braaten in “We are Charlotte.”

Perhaps the most poignant message comes from the exhibit as a whole, which seems to encourage the visitor to embrace our social problems as part of our community identity instead of ignoring or hiding them. After all, are not recognition and acceptance the first steps to solving these issues?

Photo by Alycone Moore in “We are Charlotte.”

“We are Charlotte” will run through October 14th in the Middleton McMillan Gallery with an opening reception scheduled for September 27th at 6 p.m. Queen City residents can also see portraits from the show on digital billboards around the Center City through a partnership with Orange Barrel Media.

“We are Charlotte” at the Light Factory.

The Light Factory: 345 North College St., Charlotte; 704-333-9755; www.lightfactory.org. Gallery hours: Mon.-Sat., 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sun., 1-6 p.m.

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