Searching for Youngstown’s Past Through a Lens

By Frances Clause

“Pittsburgh and Youngstown are so similar in the sense that they were both hugely important to the steel industry,” Tyler Calpin, a senior photography major at Point Park University, said.

For Calpin, moving to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, turned into a new appreciation for Youngstown and his senior thesis, “Searching for Jenny.”

“In the early stages of shooting for the project, I was aimlessly trying to find this blast furnace and quickly found out that it was demolished in 1988,” he said, referencing the Jeanette Blast Furnace of Youngstown’s past.

“So, the fact that this well-known relic of the industry no longer existed drove me to keep looking for these kinds of things in the [Youngstown] landscape,” he added.

This project includes nine of Calpin’s photos and five images that originated from a record Youngstown Sheet & Tube company produced in 1964 to celebrate their research center.

Using the images and documents as a driving force, Calpin created a film that utilizes archival footage about steel production. Accompanied by audio from the record, he also captured footage of a steel sculpture that acts as a metaphor for the steel industry’s rise and fall.

Through “Searching for Jenny,” Calpin said he hopes his audience begins to consider what the steel industry could have been if it had lasted longer.

“Youngstown is extremely prideful of their past, and I would hope that people could never forget about that time,” he said. “It should be celebrated and could definitely bounce back given the right industry came in and provided sustainable jobs.”

Photo courtesy of Tyler Caplin

Other than archival documents, Calpin used the internet, newspapers, magazines and oral history from ex-steel workers to assist with his project.

“The project was very research-heavy,” April Friges, assistant professor of photography at Point Park University, said.

Friges believes Calpin’s project creates a strong impact on people from different areas.

“I think that if you think about the history of the Rust Belt and steel industry in general, it relates to other communities, especially small towns, as well,” she said. “Youngstown’s situation wasn’t much different than them and was part of a larger issue.”

As Calpin’s professor, Friges sees the growth throughout his college years within “Searching for Jenny.”

“He started the project in my contemporary issues class when he was a junior,” she said. “Senior thesis is an entire year, and students not only touch on a subject but really dive in. This really connected and focused Tyler on the community.”

Calpin is proud to come from Youngstown because it’s where he found his passion for art and photography.

“As for Youngstown’s future, I hope to see more kids follow their dreams,” he said. “I just want to show people, especially those that are younger than I am, that being an artist is feasible no matter where you are from. Opportunity and success will find you.”

“Searching for Jenny” will be displayed at Artists Image Resource in Pittsburgh for the Point Park Senior Thesis Exhibition April 12 through 28. The opening reception is April 12 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

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One thought on “Searching for Youngstown’s Past Through a Lens

  1. Preservation of these valuable historical artifacts is so important and providing proper protection is critical so that future generation can learn more about our history.

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