Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

‘100 Lenses’ changes students’ idea of home

Football Saturdays at The University of Alabama always begin on Friday afternoon. Tents go up, vendors set up, and visitors prowl the campus eagerly. Elliot Knight, a professor in the Honors College and the Department of Art and Art History, sits at his desk in Nott Hall, ignoring the nearby ruckus on the Quad. It isn’t football on his mind – it’s photography.

Knight grew up in Opelika, Ala. and came to the University in 2003 to major in the New College. He studied a mixture of photojournalism, fine arts photography and filmmaking, which laid the foundation for his future work with “Black Belt 100 Lenses.”

In 2006, Knight was working for The Crimson White when he found himself at the Ferguson Center’s new Crossroads Community Center. Initially there to take a portrait of the new director, Bettina Byrd-Giles, Knight found himself with the seed that was soon to blossom into “100 Lenses.”

“She and I got to talking about photography, and she told me about a project she had done at a conference,” Knight said.

Byrd-Giles’s project involved getting into groups and photographing the surrounding areas. The two began thinking of how this could translate to the University’s campus.

“We came up with a project we called ‘100 Lenses,’ and it was because we had 100 cameras we gave out to different students,” Knight said. “After they had taken their photos, they picked their favorite three, and we built a mural.”

One year later, “100 Lenses” had expanded to several counties within the Black Belt. Working with Samory Pruitt, vice president of Community Affairs for the Black Belt Community Foundation, Knight gave high school students cameras so they could document their day-to-day experiences.

Although Knight said there was not a particular story that stood out to him, he noticed the students’ attitudes toward their hometowns changing. At the exhibit in Sumter County, Knight said one girl’s statement struck him.

“She was saying, ‘Well, before, people would ask me where I was from, and I’d just kind of mumble and say, ‘I’m from Sumter County,’ but now I say [positively], ‘I’m from Sumter County.’” Knight said.

One former “100 Lenses” participant, D’Anthony Jackson, said the project inspired him to create his own photography business .

Jackson took part in “100 Lenses” from 2010 to 2012. He is now a sophomore at the University of West Alabama majoring in integrated marketing communications.

I learned how to view – not only my community – but everything at different perspectives and see things in more of a future point of view,” Jackson said. “After leaving the program, I began to see it as a place for restoration, of history and of future.”

“100 Lenses” continued developing, and UA students became involved in the process.

“One thing we did with ‘Black Belt 100 Lenses’ was we started doing a summer camp so that all of the students came here [to the University] for a week over the summer, instead of it being over the whole year in their county,” Knight said.

Knight started an Honors College course, as well, in which UA students partnered with art students from Holt High School.

In addition to teaching and community outreach, Knight’s “100 Lenses” leaves a lasting impact on the students who participate.

“Mr. Knight is one of the most intelligent, well-rounded people I have ever met,” Jackson said. “He may not know this, but I look up to him, and I consider him to be a great role model in my life.”

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