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Jeff Manes: DeGrand tells stories with photos

Joel DeGr67 Beverly Shores is shown with one 20 life-sized photos his exhibit “Uniforms Outfits Accessories” The Center for Visual

Joel DeGrand, 67, of Beverly Shores is shown with one of the 20 life-sized photos in his exhibit “Uniforms, Outfits and Accessories” at The Center for Visual and Performing Arts in Munster, Ind. | Photo Provided

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Updated: March 31, 2012 5:13PM



“If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn’t have to lug around a camera.”

— Lewis Hine

South Shore Arts is presenting yet another cool exhibit at The Center for Visual and Performing Arts in Munster.

“Uniforms, Outfits and Accessories” was created by professional and fine-arts photographer Joel DeGrand of Beverly Shores.

DeGrand, 67, a native of Pennsylvania, is married to Amanda Freymann; they have raised two adult children. Since 1990, he has been an adjunct professor at Columbia College in Chicago. DeGrand also teaches at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, Ill.

***

Where in Pennsylvania were you born?

“An old coal-mining town called Kittanning, near Pittsburgh.

Is DeGrand a French name?

“No, it’s actually Italian. It was originally spelled DeGrandis. My grandfather never became an American citizen. He came here, got a job in the coal mines and was killed in the mine when he was 28. So my dad never really knew his dad.”

Sorry to hear that. Steelers football fan?

“Die-hard. One of my first teaching jobs was at a high school in Pittsburgh. To raise money for the yearbook, they invited the Steelers during the offseason to play basketball against the faculty. We played one-on-one; we didn’t play a zone defense. I had to guard (Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive tackle) ‘Mean Joe’ Greene. We actually beat the Steelers. They were really good, but we beat them and became heroes at the high school.”

College?

“Indiana University College at Pennsylvania, which is a teachers’ college and an art school; I wanted to be an art teacher.”

Indiana, Pa., the home of Jimmy Stewart.

“I had a friend who lived right behind his house.”

What did you do after teaching art at that high school in Pittsburgh?

“I got a job as head photographer at a daily newspaper, but I let them know I wanted to go back to school for my master’s degree in fine arts. I will say, working for the newspaper was probably the most fun job I ever had. But, I ended up going to the University of Oregon in Eugene.”

I always wanted travel to Oregon.

“It’s beautiful; I stayed out there for six years. When I was there, you actually could drink out of the river.

“Once I left Oregon, I got a job teaching at Southern Illinois University. I really didn’t like it down there, so I moved back to Pittsburgh because my parents weren’t doing well.”

What happened then?

“In 1975, I helped start up the photography department at Pittsburgh Filmmakers. It’s probably the largest media-art center in the United States. I served as department head and academic coordinator until 1987.”

When did you move to this area?

“We moved to Chicago in 1990, then moved to Beverly Shores in 2000.”

Tell me about your exhibit.

“Well, I’ve been working on the project for about four years. So far, I have 60 of these 72-by-96 photographs depicting what people were on their respective jobs. I picked out 20 of the 60 for the exhibit.”

These life-sized photos are fantastic: Stephanie, the roller derby gal from Chicago; your nephew, the coal miner, from Blacklick, Pa.; the circus ringmaster from South Carolina, Chan the street sweeper from China, Barry the baker from Maine, Les the scuba diver from Valparaiso.

I have one bone to pick with you; you’ve lived in Pittsburgh and Northwest Indiana. Where’s the steel worker clad in flame-retardant greens, hard hat and hot-mill gloves?

“We tried; one of the steel companies around here told us flat out, ‘No.’ ”

Unbelievable. Joel, as a present, I received the classic “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” by writer James Agee and photographer Walker Evans. What a book, depicting the sharecroppers of the South. I also love the powerful sweat-shop and child-labor photographs by Lewis Hine.

“Me, too. Hine once said, ‘If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn’t have to lug around a camera.’ ”

***

DeGrand’s work can be viewed in such prestigious collections as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, and the Blue Cross-Blue Shield Collection. But “Uniforms, Outfits and Accessories” can be enjoyed right here in NWI and has been extended to April 15.

It’s worth a drive to 1040 Ridge Road in Munster.



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