I went here first around five, six years ago and was met by the founder and director at the time and he was extremely rude to me. He knew me and my work and purposely went out of his way to try humiliate me. I have been around the block a few times, I wasn't going to intimidated. Then I heard he was terminated. I decided to give the place another chance. Since then I have been back numerous times, from openings to benefits. I was soon asked to be an instructor there and have been since. I find CPC to be a wonderful and supportive community of people who care about the world of photography. They are a committed bunch and I will always be part of this community.
I joined Chicago Photography Center as a member almost 2 years ago and took a few classes. I found the community warm and supportive and the classes were fantastic. My work was part of an all student exhibition in July of 2012 which was a fantastic experience. Late 2012 I became a member of the board of directors to help CPC continue their services and to give back.
I began at the CPC as a student in 2008. I was so impressed by the instructors and staff that I continued on as a volunteer for several years. Recently I was asked to join the board as an outside director, which I consider an honor and a privilege. In my personal experience, the CPC does wonderful work as a community center and school.
I've been particularly impressed by the diversity and commitment of the instructors at the CPC, and the wide range of activities and courses the Center sponsors. The Center offers a very wide range of classes, starting from introductory film and digital classes and running up through advanced courses in special techniques or subjects (such as street photography and tabletop photography). It also teaches digital post-processing techniques, both as part of the standard courses and as separate specialty classes. On top of that, the CPC also continually develops new courses to meet student demand. Recent additions include cellphone photography (something community members have clamored for) and courses for budding professionals who want to learn how to earn a living through photography. The faculty is made up of photographers with a wide variety of backgrounds, such as fine-arts, commercial, and street photographers. Many are professionals, while others are long-time enthusiasts sharing their love of the art.
The CPC is not just a school, though. It uses its courses and its gallery space to conduct community outreach. Recently, it has used gallery shows to give exposure to young Iraqi photographers, local tattoo artists, Chicago high school students, and a wide variety of professional photographers from Chicago and beyond. An upcoming show will showcase the work of a local photojournalist who documented the lives of Cambodian women, and also photography by some of those women (including a schoolteacher and a survivor of the sex industry). It also has a residency program used to support local young artists as they develop their portfolios. Another outreach program teaches film photography and darkroom development to local high school students. They learned more than just photography—they apprenticed in every role in the process, learning how to manage and run an efficient studio. They also created wonderful work that the CPC was very proud to exhibit.
One of the most impressive outreach programs focuses on local homeless and otherwise disadvantaged individuals. The program gives these people cameras so that they can document their daily lives. The CPC then exhibits their work at a special fundraiser. This serves several important functions. First, it gives the disadvantaged photographers an artistic voice—very few of these people would have had the opportunity to create this sort of art otherwise. Second, it gives them an audience for that voice. The exhibition connects the photographers with gallery visitors from the local community, as well as the CPC’s traditional students. This gives the viewers a new insight into the lives of their disadvantaged neighbors. Third, because many of the photographs focus on the institutions that provide day-to-day support for the artists (such as food banks and shelters), it gives those critical support centers much-needed exposure and publicity. The program integrates all these various levels of the community. It is a wonderful example of how the CPC has identified a unique role in supporting and connecting its community, and shows how a nonprofit community school is fundamentally different from for-profit photography schools.
Given the quality of the CPC’s instruction and community outreach, and its deep support from the community, I was very surprised by the negative reviews here. I was less surprised when I realized that they all appear to have been written by one or two individuals spinning off anonymous identities for. (At the time I am writing this, all but one of the negative reviews are from brand-new accounts that have never commented on any other nonprofit. That may change as the writer tries to create more credible fronts for his attacks on the CPC.) These reviews are all very similar to each other in tone and substance. They also strongly resemble bitter emails that an anonymous individual sent to CPC faculty and staff some time ago.
Nothing in these poisonous attacks is at all consistent with my experience as a student, volunteer, or board member. For example, based on my personal knowledge of the CPC’s finances, the critic’s comment (made in almost identical terms under several user names) that “stakeholders in the CPC have lost a total of almost $400,000” is absolutely false. It is not technically inaccurate, or slightly misleading, or a little bit wrong—it is an absolute lie. I suspect for various reasons that the anonymous critic has a personal grudge against specific leaders at the CPC, as you can see from his or her namedropping. Moreover, I believe that the critic may be the owner of a local for-profit photography school that competes with the CPC for students. If I am correct, then the critic’s primary motive appears to be to attack his or her competition by tarring the CPC’s reputation with anonymous attacks. For example, at least one of these comments blatantly asks readers to google competing for-profit photography classes in the Chicago area, and advertises their facilities.
I would be very disappointed if that were true, because I cannot fathom the mindset of a business owner who would attempt to increase their profits by anonymously slandering a competing non-profit. But I cannot discern any other reason for a sudden crop of viciously negative, factually false, and stylistically identical reviews appearing overnight in a coordinated attack on a non-profit community center and arts school.
In the end, anonymous comments on the internet are worth what you paid for them. I am proud to sign my own name to my endorsement of the CPC, and I encourage you to contact me with any questions. Furthermore, I encourage any reader interested in learning more about the CPC to visit its website (chicagophoto.org) or visit it in person at 3301 N. Lincoln Ave. Any visitor will quickly see why we are so proud of our students, staff, and faculty.