Many artists have called the city of Newark home, from literary giant Amiri Baraka to visual artist Jerry Gant. Newark is a city rooted in art, and the influx of programs like Newark Open Doors, and the increasing availability of galleries and art spaces, have contributed to what feels like a revival of art in the city.
Even with these developments, a quick Google search of “Artists in Newark, New Jersey” will only lead to a flurry of articles about gentrification and a list of gallery spaces, instead of a conclusive list of who and what to look out for in the Newark art scene.
Artist Colleen Gutwein is changing that with The Newark Arts Photo Documentary Project. Although Gutwein’s project focuses primarily on visual artists, she has built a digital Rolodex of the city’s finest photographers, painters, sculptors and much more.
“I realized that this community is what I’m part of, and this is what I should be focusing on, and that’s what makes a good documentary,” said Gutwein of the project.
The project features portraits of various Newark artists in their studios or landmarks around the city. According to the project description on her website, Gutwein hopes the documentary project will create a window for the world to view the scope of the Newark art scene now, as well as to preserve the culture for future generations to look back on.
Although the term “documentary” immediately connotes moving images and historical undertakings, the intimate images that Gutwein captures help viewers visualize art in Newark today, by looking at those who create it. Instead of sound and text, Gutwein relies solely on the image to capture this moment in Newark’s art history.
Gutwein, who also has worked as a documentary photographer in Cambodia, is very much part of the community that she is currently documenting. The photographer is an artist-in-residence at Newark’s Index Art Gallery, and most recently curated last year’s Forum in Form exhibition.
When asked how the project came about, Gutwein recounted a conversation with Index co-founder, Dave Smith. “You’re always working on documentaries all over the place, you should document what’s going on here, in Newark,” Gutwein recalled Smith saying.
Through a grant from the Puffin Foundation, Gutwein started the project, and three years and almost 70 artists later, The Newark Arts Photo Documentary Project is still growing. All the images featured in Gutwein’s project are shot with an antique 1940’s Jem Jr 120 box camera, manufactured by J.E. Mergott Co. in Newark.
“I was thinking, I’m a photographer shooting artists in Newark, how do I make this project more Newark-centric? And I found these cameras on eBay, and I thought, ‘This is perfect.'”
Although Gutwein’s project is mainly visual, the finished work, which will culminate in a book and an exhibition, will feature some text about the artist’s relationship to the city. Gutwein also uses the featured artists as referrals for other artists in Newark who she can feature in the documentary.
“It’s a community project — it’s not just about me — and I’ve learned so much about my community by doing this. There’s such a huge list of artists in the city and the project keeps growing because Newark keeps changing.”
Although Gutwein hopes to release the final project next spring, she wants to continue to use the website to document the growth in Newark’s art community.
“The website has become more than just, ‘Look at the photos I’ve taken.’ It’s using the city to connect the artists, and it has become a tool for people who want to get into the arts scene in Newark or who want to see an artist in Newark. They can go to this place and see all the artists and learn about their work.”
Featured image: Gladys Grauer, photographed by Colleen Gutwein. Learned more about the project at newarkartsphotodoc.com.