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Sunny Nash Launches New Photographic Study
Sunny Nash, award-winning author, photographer and producer, launches a new study of Los Angeles storefront churches for her collection, Shopping For Hope, a Photographic Study of Storefront Churches across America.
“I began Shopping For Hope in 1989 in Houston, Texas, when I was on assignment there as a medical writer-producer at the University of Texas Health Science Center,” Nash said. “Driving across the city to the studio which could be slow at peak hours I saw what looked like hundreds of crosses on the horizon just off the Freeway. I promised myself I would stop one day and take a closer look. I did and was amazed at the number of storefront and other nontraditional churches that I found.”
Shopping for Hope became a multi-city photographic study of storefront churches across America when Nash applied her interest in the subject to other cities and took a provocative peek into the faith and religious practices of people living in out-of-the-way neighborhoods and regions of the United States.
In 1989 and 1990 Nash photographed abandoned houses, tents, mobile homes, stables, movie theaters, rooming houses, trucks and shacks that had been converted into churches in Houston, Texas. “It was fascinating,”
When the New York Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture learned of Nash’s photographic study of storefront churches in Houston, they purchased exhibition rights to fifty-five her Houston images. “I was elated when Deborah Willis called and said they would pay for the pictures,” said Nash. “At that time, it was the best payday I’d had from the sale of my photography. In fact, I delivered the photographs personally. By this time, Deborah had taken a position at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC and I did not have to opportunity to meet her. However, I was asked by the Schomburg if I could make a similar study in Harlem while I was there. I agreed, reluctantly, because I was not as comfortable walking the streets of Harlem as I was Houston, which is like my hometown.”
In 1991, Nash photographed storefront churches in Harlem; in 1992 Newark; in 1993 Philadelphia;
“Most of what I found over my twenty-year study has disappeared into the history of those places where I took the pictures,” Nash said. “Storefront religious structures are temporary. When the landlord shows up for rent, congregations move. When developers’ wrecking balls swing, the congregations run for safety. Entire portions of cities have undergone redevelopment that did not include provisions for storefront religion. Although storefront religion--hybrid versions of mainstream beliefs adapted to the needs of poor and ignored populations--
In 2002, Deborah Willis, currently a professor of photography and history of photography at New York University, selected photographs from Nash’s study of storefront churches in Nashville and New York for inclusion in the gigantic reference and history book, Reflections in Black, a History of Black Photographers 1840 - the Present, the first comprehensive history of black photographers, featuring 600 images by African American photographers, including Gordon Parks, James VanDerZee, Carrie Mae Weems, Sunny Nash and many others from the beginning of the art.
Reflections in Black was a Los Angeles Times and Washington Post Book World Best Book of 2000, and a Good Morning America best gift book of 2000. Nash also earned recognition for her research on storefront churches from Women in Photography International.
In addition to being included in Reflections in Black, a History of Black Photographers 1840 - the Present, photographs from Sunny Nash’s project, Shopping For Hope, a Photographic Study of Storefront Churches across America, were featured in the Houston Chronicle, and on PBS and ABC Good Morning Houston; and have been exhibited in Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC, Houston, Santa Fe and other cities around the nation.
“My goal with this study is to complete a book on the history of storefront religion and to illustrate it with my photography of the current cities in my study and other cities that I hope to add to my study,” Nash said. “I believe the significance of my study of storefront churches reaches into the very belly of our society and quite literally establishes the quest of one’s hopes and dreams, religious or otherwise, as reasons for living. Although the landscape and architecture of these geographical regions are different, the basic theme is the same--people shopping for hope, looking for answers to their philosophical questions about life.”
© 2009 KSUN Incorporated
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Sunny Nash is the award-winning author of Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s, recognized by the American Association of University Presses for understanding U.S. race relations. Nash was nominated for a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for her TV documentary, "We Have Something To Say," whose title song, which Nash composed, was a finalist for a Sammy Davis Award in songwriting. Nash is a 2003 California Literary Arts Fellow, won a Charter Television Producer's Award in the category, “Talk & Entertainment”