Take a quick scroll through the #WIA2 hashtag on Instagram, and you're awash in a thousand perspectives of what Winter in America looks like. The hashtag was started by friends and photographers Armando Geneyro and Blake Jackson, co-creators of the loose-knit TheyShootn collective, which invites photographers from across the world to contribute to a growing online archive of street photography. #WIA2 refers to Winter in America II, a photo show and gathering focused on getting folks talking about issues facing marginalized communities, which opens February 16 at Jiberish.
"I'm excited about the photos we're showing," says Geneyro. "A majority of them touch on the topic of homelessness, but we're displaying a powerful photo that speaks on domestic violence; we also have a photo that was taken at Standing Rock. There are several themes going, but it all ties together with the harshness of winter and the problems that affect our underrepresented people."
While last year's photos were chosen directly from the hashtag submissions, then printed and hung, this year's batch was curated by the photographers. Jackson and Geneyro chose more than a dozen photographers to show, many from metro Denver; they also invited venerable Bay Area street shooter Travis Jensen to contribute work. In addition to the photos they chose to print and frame, hundreds of #WIA2 submissions from Instagram will be projected in the gallery throughout the evening.
Named for the Gil Scott-Heron album, the now-annual Winter in America exhibition has been expanded to include more images, live performances from MILKY.WAV and SUR ELLZ, and sets by DJ Vandelay. The idea was to work off of the party vibe that naturally occurs at They Shootn events while providing an inviting space for people to talk openly about issues that impact Denver residents.
"We have a good intersection of people who come to our shows and want to dance and have a good time," says Jackson. "But we wanted it to feel almost like an interactive curated art and music experience."
Jackson says the venue for the show was also a factor in creating the right kind of atmosphere. Last year's event took off at Station, a local streetwear shop in Five Points. Early in the evening, the line was out the door at the intimate boutique, which stayed packed until closing. This time around, Geneyro and Jackson chose Colorado clothing company Jiberish's flagship store for its larger size and location.
"The location we chose was very intentional; we wanted to attract a wider group of people. Jiberish is right in the heart of quote-un-quote RiNo, and many of us have experience in what that kind of change has done to the community, good, bad or indifferent," says Jackson. "Some people may walk in the door just because we're throwing a dope party, but it would be great to spark a conversation about what's going on in the city. "
Just a half a mile from where Winter in America II will be held sits the Denver Rescue Mission, a place that Geneyro and Jackson recently visited with videographer Jonathan Martin, who documented the trip.
"It was really humbling to see the amount of work that goes into sustaining a place like the Denver Rescue Mission, and humbling to see the people getting services there," says Geneyro. "[Homelessness] is a problem that unfortunately Denver is dealing with on an upward trend, but addressing it is the only way to get that dialogue going and to try to find other options and better solutions."
Another tradition at the Winter in America shows is that the organizers request viewers to donate a hoodie. Last year's exhibition gathered more than 200 items of clothing. As an employee of Denver Public Schools who works specifically with the system's social workers, Geneyro reached out to his colleagues in advance of the opening to for hoodies; he's already got a good stack going and hopes to beat 2016's collection numbers. Proceeds from photography sales will go to the Denver Rescue Mission.
"We want to take care of our homeless population, but we also want Winter in America to be a springboard for talking about all issues," says Jackson. "Whether it's poverty and homelessness or relations with law enforcement, we want to have dialogue about all of it."
Join the conversation at Winter in America II: A They Shootn Exhibit opening Thursday, February 16, at 6 p.m. at Jiberish, 2650 Walnut Street. Guests are asked to donate a new hoodie at the door; no one will be turned away. Proceeds from sales of the photographs will go to the Denver Rescue Mission. For more information, see They Shootn on Instagram.
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