In Class News

March 3, 2015 at 4:47 pm

Joslin-Knapp Wants to Show Race, Not Stereotypes

Sydney Joslin-Knapp

Self-portrait by Sydney Joslin-Knapp

By Chris Caldwell

Sydney Joslin-Knapp ’16 attempts to blend her photography degree with her African American Studies minor to show issues of race rather than merely tell them.

“Since coming to OU, I realize just how little people talk about race in a productive way,” says Joslin-Knapp. African American Studies has provided her with an additional lens by which to perceive and discuss topics of social disparity. Her interest in African American Studies is far from clinical or sterile; instead, her work is influenced by where she was raised—in a mostly black neighborhood in Dayton, OH.

Too often, artists romanticize towns and neighborhoods that have fallen on hard times, or that have had a series of oppressive actions perpetrated against them. Joslin-Knapp strives to stay away from falling into the same pitfalls of easy and under-developed depictions. But showing a genuine story, rather than displaying easy stereotypes, is a tough tightrope to walk.

“I don’t want to go into neighborhoods that have been negatively affected; then I am just making ruin porn rather than appreciating people and places for who and what they are,” she says. Her goal is not to exploit her social position as a white woman for her own ends. Rather, she wants to educate others and make a positive impact on her home community.

“I don’t have a plan yet,” she adds. But that’s not to say that she hasn’t given her next steps some serious thought.

Joslin-Knapp would like to go on to complete an MFA in photography, never forgetting the lessons that she learned at Ohio University in African American Studies. The blueprint for her future includes more schooling, to be better equipped to explain and display the difficult concepts of race and privilege.

“I don’t want to do anything fleeting. I would rather be a vanguard of sorts, geared up to give people tools to help themselves rather than do things for them.”

“An African American Studies degree is necessary for so many things,” says Joslin-Knapp. “It is necessary for understanding barriers, for preventing the next Mike Brown and John Crawford.”

Joslin-Knapp wants her work to do more than merely raise awareness. Her desire is to see a higher education world that transcends whiteness in its curriculum and a society that has done away with a whitewashed narrative of history and human interaction. Joslin-Knapp wants to infuse more than a little color into the media; she hopes that her work will bring meaning and understanding to an often senseless and severe world.

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