‘52 Oak Parkers’ capturing spirit of community
Oak Park photographer Eileen Molony has launched “52 Oak Parkers,” a portrait project. | Meredith Morris~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 23, 2012 7:03AM
What more is a community than the sum of its people?
That’s a question being explored by Oak Park photographer Eileen Molony, who is creating portraits of some of the village’s most iconic business people, artists and other citizens.
“52 Oak Parkers,” Molony’s portrait project currently under way, will chronicle some of the many people who give Oak Park its texture. It will also reinvigorate Molony’s own passion for portrait and documentary photography.
“Since having kids, a lot of my photography became about children and maternity. This was a way to get me back into doing the other types of portraits I enjoy,” said Molony, mother of two children, ages 3 and 7.
Focusing the project on Oak Park offered Molony the dual benefit of reining in its scope and being able to learn more about people she’s met in the area, through walking Oak Park neighborhoods and getting to know people at block parties and other community events.
“Oak Park is small enough but we don’t always realize who’s here. I wanted to delve into its personalities,” she said.
Molony studied photography in her native Ireland before moving to San Francisco to pursue a freelance photography career. She came to Oak Park six years ago with her husband, architect Mark Pellettieri, originally a Chicagoan.
Comparing Oak Park to other places she’s lived in the United States, Molony values the village’s walkability and its ample stock of residents who, like herself, were raised elsewhere.
Identifying 52 Oak Parkers out of the thousands of potentially worthwhile portrait candidates is no easy task. To do so, Molony is beginning with small business owners and other “real characters” whom she finds intriguing. Their common denominator is full immersion in their interests.
“I want a variety of known and lesser-known people in Oak Park who are passionate about what they do,” Molony said, using Jason Smith, co-owner of The Book Table, as an example.
“Jason and his wife have a passionately independent bookstore but they also give back to local charities and support local authors. Jason is exactly the kind of person who makes people want to live here,” she said.
Other Oak Parkers on the short list for portraits include journalist and author Alex Kotlowitz, poet Charlie Rossiter, John Roberts of Piertiz Brothers, Danche Ivanovic of Danche Guitars and Val Camilletti of Val’s halla Records.
Whereas some of the subjects she’s approached have expressed reluctance about having their photos taken, they’re generally pleased to be asked and none have said no to a photo, Molony said.
Molony’s project aims for roughly a portrait a week, though it’s a schedule she is balancing with the full-time demands of career and family. She estimates its completion by the end of 2012 and is deliberating how to present “52 Oak Parkers” to the public.
“An exhibit would be nice but also a photo booklet,” she said, recalling a vintage book of postcard-sized Oak Park photos she’s seen that struck her imagination. “It would be good to have the photographs with a paragraph about each person so that people can connect with them.”