The Newark Artists Photo Documentary Project exists to elevate visual artists while cultivating artistic awareness in Newark.

The Newark Artists Photo Documentary Project documents established and emerging visual artists in the City of Newark, creating an archive of their contribution to the dynamic arts and cultural scene that has defined Newark’s artistic community for the past century. Utilizing vintage Jem Jr. box cameras manufactured in Newark in the 1940s, photographer Colleen Gutwein O'Neal captures artists’ personalities in fuzzy, mysterious images that emerge against a backdrop of vanishing architecture, forgotten places and artists’ workspaces threatened with demolition or redevelopment.

Manufactured using the simplest form of photographic technology, the Jem Jr. images are created in conjunction with modern, digital portraits depicting the artists in their studios or homes.   This digital archive, the first such directory of significant visual artists in Newark, provides a useful tool and networking resource for the community at large.  The contrast of old and new, historic vs. the modern polarity offers a provocative commentary on the place of the artist in society today and the importance of honoring and preserving forever their contributions to the creative life of New Jersey’s largest City.  

One of the most important things for me to consider when beginning this project was how I wanted to archive the artists I am working with.   Many of them are not just part of the same extended art community as I am, but are close friends with whom I often work, and therefor I wanted to take extra care and put my full creative energy into the documentation.  With a background in traditional darkroom photography, I knew the Jem Jr. camera was a perfect match when I came across it while researching the photographic history of the city,  The camera was manufactured in Newark on Jelliff Ave in the 1940’s by the J.E. Mergott Company, and helps me to stray from the perfection of a digital image, and document these artists through my own artistic process.  The gritty, fuzzy Jem Jr. images allow for disruption, ambiguity, and self-reflection by viewers, and create a truly unique perspective on archiving working artists. 

Pictured below is one of the Jem Jr. cameras used in the documentary.  Above is a sneak peek gallery of artist proofs from the Jem Jr. cameras.  These are not final prints, but scans of traditional contact sheets. All of the digital and analog images will be completed and on view to the public in October, 2018. 

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all images © Colleen Gutwein