Kalamazoo Valley Museum Opens Photo Exhibit Documenting Nearly 40 Years of Local Life

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What began as a photo project celebrating Kalamazoo's everyday life expanded to chronicling an entire county.

A 1984 image of a farmer's market in Kalamazoo, Michigan is among the some 100 photos in the “Moments in Time: The Kalamazoo County Photo Documentary Project” exhibit at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum.

It's not just grand events. The exhibit captures the variety of human life and the changing landscape of America.

In 1984, during the 100th anniversary of Kalamazoo becoming a city, a group of photographers documented what life was like then. This original project has expanded, chronicling everyday life throughout Kalamazoo County every decade or so, most recently in 2020. The result of this collaboration between volunteer photographers and the Kalamazoo Valley Museum is a new exhibit at the museum of about 100 images, selected from the thousands taken since the project began.

The “Moments in Time: The Kalamazoo County Photo Documentary Project” exhibit will be on display until June 2023. It features the work of 41 of the 152 photographers who participated in the project. Museum staff hope the installation will help shape the community's understanding of local history in the future. “I think the community will want to come and enjoy this because it represents their lives,” said Julie Bunke, manager of exhibits and interactive experiences at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. “It’s not just grand events.”

The exhibit captures the variety of human life and the changing landscape of America. “There’s aerial photos of farmland, downtown Kalamazoo buildings, Fourth of July parades, football games and urban life,” Bunke said. “You’ll see people going grocery shopping, and what houses looked like at the time. One photo is of the interior of a McDonald’s that opened in October 1990, near the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport. It was kind of funny to see the style of décor and the way people were dressed then.”

More than 7,500 images were submitted for the project in the year 2020 alone, the most recent year it took place; photos were also collected in 1984, 1990, 2000 and 2011. Each project has grown in the number of photographers as well as the photos submitted for consideration. The public is invited to a reception on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, at 1:30 p.m. at the museum to celebrate the immense achievement of completing this important history project. Admission to the event and the exhibit are free, and registration is not required.

Of the thousands of images amassed since the project started in the mid-1980s, 3,006 have been accepted for the Kalamazoo Valley Museum’s permanent collection. The goal is to place each of them in the museum’s searchable online collection database on its website. Visit kalamazoomuseum.org under the “Collections” tab to see some of the photos. Type "Kalamazoo County Documentary Project" in the search field. Keep checking back, as more photographs will be added.

The exhibit showcases the following photographers, listed in alphabetical order and with their hometowns at the time their images were submitted:

Brian Anderson – Richland                         Gordon Loscalzo – Kalamazoo
Lisa Batsell – Kalamazoo                             Christopher Magson - Kalamazoo
Randy Bronkema – Plainwell                     J.P. McGovren – Schoolcraft
Babette Burleigh – Otsego                         Raymond Novess – Kalamazoo
James Carter – Kalamazoo                         Suzanne Parish – Hickory Corners
John Cronk – Kalamazoo                             Jay Pike – Portage
Mike Dietz – Portage                                    Ben Pirrone – Kalamazoo
William Dolak – Kalamazoo                         Sally Putney – Hickory Corners
William Dyer – Kalamazoo                            Dodie Raycraft – Kalamazoo
Joseph Fox – Kalamazoo                             James Riegel – Kalamazoo
William Fraser – Portage                             Mike Sachs – Plainwell
Michael J. Gluck – Kalamazoo                     Jack Short – Kalamazoo
Elizabeth Hamilton – Schoolcraft                 Jack Sizer – Richland
Nathan Hartmann – Kalamazoo                 Marcia Sizer – Richland                                
Arya Jayatilaka – Kalamazoo                     Jim Thompson – Kalamazoo
James Keating – Kalamazoo                        David Touster – Kalamazoo
Carolyn Kennedy – Kalamazoo                    Owen Touster – Kalamazoo
Deb Killarney – Kalamazoo                         William Wallace – Kalamazoo area
John Lacko – Kalamazoo                             Shea Wetzler-Hinga – Portage
Leslie Lance – Kalamazoo                            Esther Wiles – Galesburg
Ann Leary – Portage

The Kalamazoo Valley Museum is operated by Kalamazoo Valley Community College and is governed by its Board of Trustees. Admission is free to exhibits and to the museum. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday – Saturday, and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit kalamazoomuseum.org.

PHOTO CAPTION: A black-and-white image of a farmer's market in Kalamazoo, Michigan is among the some 100 photos in the “Moments in Time: The Kalamazoo County Photo Documentary Project” exhibit at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. The photo was taken in 1984, the year the project began.

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