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Arts and Entertainment

News-Leader's Best Photos of 2015 Exhibit Will Support Harmony House

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(Photo courtesy Springfield News-Leader.)
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Even in a time where virtually anyone with a smartphone can be a "photojournalist," the grand old tradition of newspaper photography is alive and well.  The three staff photographers at the Springfield News-Leader do sterling work throughout the year, from following major news stories to offering glimpses of Ozarks culture. The News-Leader is collaborating with First Friday Art Walk to present a show and sale/silent auction of the ten "Best Photos of 2015" during the February 5th Art Walk (6:00-10:00pm) at the Coffee Ethic, 124 Park Central Square.  And as staff photographer Guillermo Hernandez tells KSMU, one hundred percent of the proceeds from the sale and silent auction of prints of these news photos will go to help Harmony House, thanks in part to Bedford Photo and Video, who are donating the prints.

Esther Munch of Harmony House explans that her organization "is the only domestic violence shelter in Springfield; we are, unfortunately, also the second-largest domestic violence shelter in the state of Missouri.  We shelter survivors of domestic violence, and we run at full capacity with 110 individuals under our roof every night.  We do, unfortunately, have to turn individuals away--and that's not an easy decision. We do refer (them) to other domestic violence shelters throughout the state... unfortunately they're also having capacity issues. So we have some local non-profit partners that will work with us. But we do encourage these individuals to keep calling--call 50 times a day!--to see if we do have a bed." The ridiculously high numbers of domestic violence incidents in this corner of the state are, of course, well known and documented.  As a result, says Esther Munch, "the (Springfield) Police Department, which is an amazing partner to Harmony House, created a task force several years ago to try to understand what's happening here, and what we can do to change it."

In addition to their crucial role as an emergency safe haven for abused women and their children, Harmony House offers case-management services, with a case manager who walks new arrivees through the process, helps the women realize they are an important member of society, and helps them find employment among other things. Harmony House also provides daily necessities to the women and children under their care, because often they arrive with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. "We are also the largest shelter of children in Springfield," says Esther.

Harmony House's annual budget is just over $1 million, half of which comes from Federal and state grants; the rest comes from private donations.  And that's where the Art Walk, the Coffee Ethic, Beford Photo and Video, and of course the News-Leader staff photographers, come into the story.

26-year-old Guillermo Hernandez has worked for the News-Leader for about a year, having moved here in 2015 from Austin, Texas. "I took my first (photography) class in college at 21 years old, had a couple of internships, a job, and now I'm here." Why did he choose photojournalism as his area of specialty? "It was the opportunity to interact with local communities and make a difference in problems that are not going to make it into national media, but are incredibly important to the people who live in a place like Springfield. Stuff like domestic violence, which is such a pervasive problem.  And through our coverage, and events like this, we really want to be able to make a difference."

For the February 5th exhibit, sale and silent auction, Guillermo says, "we have a little bit of everything--the ten best photos that we made this year, and they include stuff from a roeo that I shot; a photo story on same-sex marriage that one my colleagues shot, to a really beautiful field of sunflowers that another colleague shot. If you want a beautiful piece, or something that reflects on the coverage that we did this year, we have it for you." The show includes works by four photographers because, as Guillermo Hernandez explains, while there are three staff photographer positions at the  News-Leader,  one of the staff left last year for another job, and there are representations in the show of both his work and that of his replacement.

Patrons at the opening reception on February 5th at the Coffee Ethic will be able to purchase 8" x 12" printgs on-site, and/or bid on large 16" x 24" prints in the silent auction. Again, all proceeds will go to Harmony House domestic violence shelter. You can get a preview of the photographs to be featured in the show at http://www.news-leader.com/picture-gallery/news/local/ozarks/2016/01/15/best-of-2015-photo-show/78845018/,  or visit Facebook and search for "News-Leader's Best Photos of 2015" (https://www.facebook.com/events/790800621024109/).