Ask 10 Savannahians how they feel about the recent growth and development of the Starland District, and you’re likely to get 10 different answers. Now long-time resident of Starland Parker Stewart adds his voice to the conversation with his first solo photography exhibition "Love Thy Neighborhood."
Opening Friday, March 6 at Starland Yard, this exhibition presents an honest look at Savannah’s fastest-growing neighborhood, celebrating Starland for everything it is, and everything it can be.
DO: What first drew you to the art of photography?
Stewart: In fifth or sixth grade, I picked up a camera, I started making photographs and just got really interested in it. So much so that I made a T-shirt for myself that said "Parker Stewart Photography. Check out my photos at www.freewebs.com/p-man-stew," which was my AIM screen name at the time. [laughs] By high school, I knew I was going to go to art school and I wanted to study photography. It was the one thing that I was truly passionate about.
DO: Why did you choose SCAD?
Stewart: Well, I didn't apply to a lot of places. I remember coming down on a SCAD Day to visit in February, and it was 68 degrees and sunny and beautifully green everywhere. And I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I could see myself here.’ [laughs] I came to the photo building at SCAD, which at the time was Bergen Hall on MLK, which was a beautiful five-story building with the most insane resources and incredible professors--where every other school I had visited had the photo department tucked away in a basement somewhere. It was a combination of the beauty of Savannah and amazing resources that SCAD provided.
DO: How did SCAD contribute to your photography practice?
Stewart: SCAD professors Rebecca Nolan, Craig Stevens, and the late Tom Fischer were my three big mentors, but Steve Bliss and Larry Dixon are right up there with them. That's what I really loved about SCAD — it was so easy to really get to know your professors and learn from them one-on-one rather than just in a class setting. Everybody made themselves very available. SCAD tended to provide a lot more opportunity outside of just going to school. If you talk to your professors, you realize that they all have insane networks themselves and can call anybody from anywhere in the world at any time of day and say, ‘Hey, I've got somebody that's interested in this. Could they come out and work with you?’
DO: Tell me how this exhibition came about. What inspired you to capture this neighborhood?
Stewart: Essentially the epicenter of the work is the "cold beer" sign in the Cha-Del's parking lot. Originally the title of the work was called ‘Slowly Over Time,’ and that was because most of these scenes that I was documenting were things that I would walk by every day and out of the corner of my eye, see the sun hitting this one specific house at a certain time of day and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to go back and photograph that.’
DO: What does the show reveal about one of Savannah’s most popular neighborhoods?
Stewart: The work isn’t exactly narrative — it’s not trying to tell a story about the neighborhood, but simply appreciate it for what it is. It's an homage to Starland, to the 30s and forties, to changing Montgomery and Victory. You'll notice in the show, there'll be four pictures of the same house that I photograph four times in five years; so the show is looking at layers of time in a certain space. It's looking at the things that have changed and the things that haven't and how the beauty lies in both of those things.
The show also zooms in and zooms out on Starland scenes. You’ll see classic scenes, wide shots that you immediately recognize. But then there's a lot of details of the neighborhood, like the hood of a car, a ripped-up lottery ticket on the ground, or the pile of Taaka Vodka bottles near the Cha-Del's parking lot.
DO: You’ve lived in or around Starland for about 8 years now. What do you personally love about it?
Stewart: I couldn't be happier here. I love the weave, you know, the beautiful restored Victorian home sitting next to the completely dilapidated one. You gotta love the fact that the most popular bakery in town is across from the city mission and you gotta understand that this is how change works these days. I love the progress that has been made in the past eight years specifically. I see it as such a positive thing for everybody. It's just such a unique and beautiful little corner of Savannah that just happens to be the one that's had so much attention to it right now.
DO: What is the significance of having your show at Starland Yard, a fairly new Starland location?
Stewart: I’m so grateful to Starland Yard. Ava [Pandiani] approached me about doing a show, and I thought it was perfect. There's definitely significance of showing it in the spot that is the most controversial as far as change in Starland goes.
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