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Pay It Forward>>LATITUDE

Pay It Forward is a collaborative, experimental fundraiser devised by Autotelic {Studios} and Sixty Inches From Center. We are experimenting with the idea of paying it forward to other arts organizations who work to support artists and a thriving arts community in Chicago. Our Pay It Forward Series will highlight one of the eight projects that we have chosen to be part of our fundraiser each week, leading up to our Pay It Forward Fundraising Party + Housewarming on November 23rd, 7 PM at (our new fundraiser location!) FLATS Studio at 1050 W Wilson Ave.

This week we spoke with LATITUDE, a not-for-profit open digital lab located right around the corner from the Fulton Street Collective. Equipped with state-of-the-art printers and scanners, plenty of workspace, and a team of experts in the field, LATITUDE provides photographers of all walks of life with a place to develop not only their photos, but also their practice. Clients range from working professionals to eager high school students, and the staff makes certain to pay equal attention to the needs of both extremes. Even those who’ve never handled a camera before will find a place to contemplate the arts at LATITUDE–though they will probably find themselves bitten by the shutterbug after a little inspiration. The staff’s enthusiasm for their craft is indeed infectious, and we are thrilled to have gotten them involved in our fundraiser and birthday party.

Sixty Inches From Center: How did you guys start?

LATITUDE: We grew out of Black Point Editions, a private, master print lab started by Walker Blackwell in 2004. Black Point ran for seven years and during that time produced prints for some amazing artists: Dawoud Bey, Barbara Crane, Kerry James Marshall, Jason Lazarus, Melanie Schiff, Greg Stimac, and lots more. But when the global recession hit in 2009, we had to change the model. Walker started looking for ways to open his lab up to the community, and in 2012, with the help of some dedicated artists and creatives, he founded LATITUDE. The goal was to offer artists direct and affordable access to high-end, professional equipment, and to build an engaging system of educational and social programming around that.

Lab coordinator Thomson Dryjanski teaching ChiArts senior Anthony Aguirre how to polish drums for scanning. (Image courtesy of LATITUDE).

SIFC: What’s your mission?

L: Formally, our mission is: To directly support emerging and established artists by providing access to advanced digital media equipment, a professional production space, and a curriculum dedicated to real-world workflows and contemporary art theory.

Informally, our mission is to create a friendly, nonjudgmental environment in which anyone can experiment with different approaches to scanning and printing. To give artists access to equipment that is usually reserved for the world of studios backed by benefactors or large corporate clients. And to build a community of people who care passionately about aesthetics, and provide forums for learning, production, and debate.

Basically, our goal is to serve as a studio that feels as comfortable as your living room but is as productive as that time you stayed up all night during finals scanning that new roll of film you were totally stoked about.

SIFC: What makes your project unique?

L: We combine technical expertise with a creative, open environment that functions on community engagement. In one day at LATITUDE you can drum scan an 8×10 negative, browse our library of artist books, and attend a crit group. Or create mural prints, relax on our couches, print out and assemble any number of zines, and attend an artist’s talk. You might end up working alongside an artist printing for museum show, or next to secondary school students here as part of a pilot program with Chicago High School for the Arts.

We’re also lucky to have an amazing group staff and volunteers who bring their own perspectives as artists and educators, and who help determine our both our day-to-day operations and ongoing programming. In many ways we’re a modular space, ready to accommodate any exciting idea that comes our way.

SIFC: What is the one thing that you want people to know about your organization?

L: That community of makers and thinkers that you had, maybe back in school, maybe years and years ago, but that ended up slowly eroding? It doesn’t have to be like that. We can be that space for you, and you can always drop by for a tour, to use our WiFi, or just to lounge on the couches and get a sense of the space.

Once you get started, we want you to know that this crazy, high-end workflow is actually kind of easy. We want you to know that you shouldn’t be creeped out when we peer over your shoulder, we’re just excited to see what image you’re working on and what your photos are like. We want you to know that this is a safe space to run a terrible print where your colors are all wonky and maybe you picked the wrong ICC profile. We want you to know that we get lost digging for ICC profiles too! We want you to know that we’re really proud of being the one place we’ve ever heard of that teaches you how to do your own drum scanning. We want you to know that we’re color nerds. We want you to know that we have box of Kodak Endura in our flat files just because we can’t bring ourselves to let go (RIP RA-4!). Basically we want you to know that we love it here and we think you will too.

LATITUDE’s reading group discussing the week’s readings. (Image courtesy of LATITUDE).

SIFC: What are your goals? What’s coming up?

L: On Saturday, November 30th from 10am to 4pm we’re hosting an Open House. The community is invited to come on by to check out our newly redesigned lab, meet our new Executive Director James Pepper Kelly, and dig through our yard sale (developing trays, enlargers, heat presses, printers for parts, furniture, and more!). There will be free giveaways, low prices, drinks, and conversation.

We’re currently developing a pilot program to bring high school students into the space. Right now we have two incredibly talented students from ChiArts that are at LATITUDE weekly learning advanced printing techniques as they proof their own work for their AP Photography class. Just last week they helped us run a print through our service bureau for the MCA’s current show, The Way of the Shovel. It was great to seem them giddily snapping pictures of each other in front of the printer as they watched this beautiful piece roll out.

This January we are launching a screening series directed by Kate Bowen and David Oresick. The series will feature the work of emerging video artists and we couldn’t be more excited to host it! We are also dusting off our gallery space and will begin exhibiting some curated shows to highlight the great work being made around us. Keep up with us on Facebook and sign up for our mailing list on latitudechicago.org!

Artist in residence Paul D’Amato’s book We Shall, his contact sheet, and the negatives for a show up at DePaul Art Museum. (Image courtesy of LATITUDE).

SIFC: How does the concept of paying it forward apply to what you do and your relationship to the Chicago arts community?

L: The post-graduate photographic community has functioned for decades with the grit and determination of a beg, barter, or steal economy. The handful of us that founded LATITUDE had use of expensive equipment because we worked at commercial studios, school labs, or maybe we just had a friend willing to let us in the back door after hours. We recognize the rarity of having access to the caliber of equipment needed to make really good work. With this ethos of sharing the wealth we garnered the incredibly generous support of Jennifer Keats and Columbia College Chicago’s Photography Department as well as Walker Blackwell and Black Point Editions. Together they helped us build LATITUDE with equipment donations and workflow geekiness.

The moral of the story is that I just don’t know where any of us, let alone LATITUDE, would be without the awesome volunteerism and support that is the core of Chicago’s creative community. The community has been generous with us in terms of interest, donations, and support, and we’re as generous as we can be in giving our time and knowledge to anyone who joins us. LATITUDE is the sort of place where both staff and members always seem happy to sit down and share a technique with someone new or give feedback on proofs that are rolling out.

SIFC: Why did you agree to be part of this fundraiser with Sixty and Autotelic?

L: We have tons of respect for Sixty, Autotelic, and the other organizations on the list, some of which we know the founders and staff of. Once you start doing this sort of non-profit work, sooner or later you end up meeting like-minded people. In Chicago’s this happens fast—there are so many artist-run groups out there willing to take risks, and they’re what really makes this city’s art scene so exciting. One drawback is that it’s easy to get caught up in non-stop work and to not see your peers very often. For us, this is a chance to see old friends, meet some new ones, show off how proud we are, and hear about other great projects. And if it’s also a birthday party… win-win!

To find out more about LATITUDE, visit www.latitudechicago.org. To donate to the Sixty & Autotelic {Studios} Pay It Forward fundraiser, CLICK HERE.

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