Cairo, Ill., subject of photo exhibit by SIU students

Friday, April 16, 2010

CAIRO, Ill. -- Some time ago, Andy Sisulak wanted to go to Cairo. He logged onto the Internet and searched for the town to plan his trip, but couldn't find anything about Cairo tourism.

After that, Sisulak, a Carbondale, Ill., native with a marketing background, started a Cairo campaign, partnering with people and organizations in Cairo. He created a website, www.cairoillinois.org, and donated it to the city, but the city had no images to add to the site. Activists within Cairo contacted a professor at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and asked if some photography students could do a Cairo project.

The resulting photos will be featured in an exhibit called "Cairo: The Confluence of Photography, Film and Town." The display opens with a reception from 2 to 4 p.m. April 24 and will hang in the second floor gallery of the Customs House Museum at least through May.

Sisulak had moved back to Carbondale in 2008 and said he "wanted to put some effort into something."

He said he hopes his efforts, and those of several others, will help raise money for the town and its historic places. The money raised from selling the photos will benefit the Customs House, the Cairo Public Library and other community preservation efforts.

Monica Smith, director of the library and Cairo special projects coordinator, said she hopes the photography project will show "a more positive image of Cairo. It's just like any other community; a lot of people don't realize what they have in their own backyard."

The library, an 1884 Queen Anne-style building Smith calls a "museum-type library," has several collections and books to check out. The Customs Museum has "a lot of different things pertaining to the community" including family heirlooms, a 10-man fire pumper used in Cairo in 1865 and the desk Gen. Ulysses S. Grant used while he was in Cairo, Smith said.

For two months 25 photography students from SIU have traveled to Cairo to photograph the town's architecture and scenery. The exhibit features one image from each artist.

"From the photos I've seen at a peer review, they're all very interesting," Sisulak said. "You can really see the different styles of the photographers."

While organizers hoped for positive images of the town, they left it up to the individual photographers to decide what and how to shoot the assignment.

"The range of the photos might show detail of the building in one photo, but the next one might be a panoramic photo of the river," Sisulak said.

While "Cairo: The Confluence of Photography, Film and Town" is the name of the exhibit, Sisulak said it also reflects the overall project of getting Cairo more exposure. He created a Facebook group called "Friends of Cairo" and within a few weeks the group had 400 members.

There's really a lot of people who have an interest in Cairo, he said. "It was just a matter of bringing them all together."

charris@semissourian.com

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