• Kalamazoo County Documentary Photo Project

    Kalamazoo County Documentary Photo Project

About the Collection

The Kalamazoo Documentary Photography Project has been initiated several times over the past decades to document the cultural and historical context of a year in the life of Kalamazoo.

Documenting Culture and History

In the 1980s, “A Day in the Life” photography projects were popular. These efforts usually resulted in books that chronicled one specific day within a certain geographical location, such as “A Day in the Life of America” or “A Day in the Life of California.” As part of the 1984 celebration of the 100th anniversary of the city of Kalamazoo, volunteer photographers recorded 24 hours’ worth of celebratory events around the city.
However, shooting only for one day is exclusive. If the resulting photos of a Kalamazoo-based project would be of value in the future, it was determined that they should be documentary: a straightforward approach to photographing with no creative lighting and no attempt to advocate. Just objective views of normal events and situations, without direction or intervention. It was with that idea that the 1984 Kalamazoo Documentary Photography Project was born in order to ensure that future generations would understand cultural and historical context of a year in the life, with photos describing who, what, when, where and why.
Volunteer photographers were organized and furnished with subjects based on a similar listing used by the Farm Security Administration in the 1930s when photographers documented Depression recovery efforts across the country. This effort resulted in 664 photographs depicting daily life in Kalamazoo being added to the museum’s permanent collections.
In 1990, the Kalamazoo Documentary Photography Project was initiated once again and continued every decade, including projects in 2000 and 2011. Each project has grown in the number of photographers as well as the number of photos submitted for consideration. Most recently, the 2020 Kalamazoo County Photo Documentary Project resulted in 18 photographers capturing one of the most unprecedented years in recent history. Currently, photos that have been cataloged from past projects can be viewed by searching “Kalamazoo County Photo Documentary Project” in the museum’s Online Collections Database. Work is continually being done to make the images from all four past Photo Documentary Projects accessible.

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2021 Kalamazoo Valley Museum.
All rights reserved.