by Max Marbut
The new art exhibit at the Main Library spent years brewing inside the head of Robert Peek, the Jacksonville Port Authority’s director of corporate communications. When “Faces of the Port,” a new fine-art photography exhibit, opened on the third floor at the Main Library Wednesday, Peek saw his years-long idea come to fruition.
“We thought we needed to come up with ways to bring the port to the community. ‘Faces of the Port’ is a project I came up with and have thought about for several years,” he said. “It was the synergy of building the new jobs site and the library having a space for an exhibit, so we felt it was time to pull the trigger.”
The photographs aren’t what you might expect, like silhouettes of container cranes with the sun rising over the St. Johns River. They depict the people of the port and the jobs they perform. That’s by design, since the photographs will also be used on the Port Authority’s new jobs Web site that will launch this summer.
“There are about seven thousand people who in and around our facilities every day and thousands more who work at companies that support our facilities,” said Peek.
Peek also said the port is a “landlord” and therefore doesn’t do much direct hiring, especially for jobs like truck drivers and forklift operators and that the plan is to create a consolidated site where workers can apply for jobs at the port.
“We’re getting our customers and port users to work with us on supplying information to one centralized database for jobs,” he said. “That’s why we decided to do the ‘Faces of the Port’ project now.”
Finding the right photographer wasn’t easy.
“Our graphic artist helped us find the photographer,” said Peek. “We went to all the colleges and asked professors. We really wanted to find a student and we found an incredible photographer named Joella Davis at the University of North Florida.”
Port Authority Graphics Coordinator and Art Director Meredith Fordham was impressed with Davis’s photographs and the way she created them.
“Joella did it in about five days of shooting. We went out there and she absorbed so much so quickly,” said Fordham. “We knew the project would be better on a shorter fuse. We wanted the feeling that someone would get if they walked onto the port. These images convey how amazing some of the things we do really are. She did a wonderful job capturing what we do every day.”
The exhibit and the system installed to display it were provided by the Port Authority and the photographs will be on exhibit for two months. They will then be relocated to the Landing. The art display system was donated in order to create a permanent exhibit space at the library.
Peek pointed out that the location of the Blount Island and Talleyrand terminals create unique challenges in terms of the community’s understanding and perception.
”When you go to a lot of ports throughout the United States, the port is in the downtown area. It’s in a busy part of town where people can see the port every day,” he said. “In Jacksonville, that’s not the case. Our facilities are out of sight, out of mind. A lot of people don’t know very much about the port if they don’t work out there or have business out there. With Homeland Security issues, it’ even tougher.”
Peek also said that he’s talking to library administrators about “Faces of the Port” being the first in a series of annual exhibits.
“It will be an art-based educational program each year that will have something to do with the port,” he said.
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