By HANAKO KATO
Paul Calhoun, adjunct photography professor in the art department at Mount Mary College, adheres to a life mission of working towards social justice.
Calhoun has been a photographer for almost 30 years, since his wife gave him a 35 mm camera as a Christmas gift. He holds a master’s degree in fine arts from the City University of New York and started teaching at Mount Mary in 2008.
One aspect of Calhoun’s community work is his involvement with at-risk youth at Ronald Reagan High School in Milwaukee, where he teaches photography and journalism. Here, Calhoun uses grants from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation and numerous other foundations to buy school supplies such as cameras and tape recorders for the students to use in class. He focuses on teaching them photography as a means of self-expression and to build self-confidence.
“It is a good thing because they can display their work in public, and it gives confidence in themselves,” Calhoun said.
Calhoun also promotes social justice through his photographs. He has traveled to Europe to work with historians, journalists and medical personnel.
“Social justice is very important for me,” Calhoun said.
Calhoun’s photographic work has been supported by numerous public and private foundations including the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Dr. Lynn Kapitan, chairwoman of the art therapy department, said his art is “not just for decoration, or for fun, it is to move people to action.”
One of Calhoun’s most recent endeavors included collaborating with his son, Ben Calhoun, the producer of National Public Radio’s “This American Life.” His son interviewed veterans from World War II until the war with Afghanistan.
Calhoun explained that some of the veterans have post-traumatic stress disorder and others have physical injuries. His son interviewed 10 veterans, and paired the interviews with photographs that Calhoun took of their daily lives. “After the Wars – Stories and Images of America’s Combat Veterans,” the compilation of interviews and photos, was exhibited in Madison, Wis., Chicago and online.
Debra Heermans, chairwoman of the art department, said Calhoun has a way of bringing social justice into the classroom.
“He helps students to understand the past and bring it to the present,” she said.
Calhoun was working in the Republic of Georgia during a time of war when he heard about the job opening at Mount Mary. He decided to come back to Wisconsin after the war ended and apply for the position.
Calhoun teaches basic and advanced photography at Mount Mary. He likes Mount Mary’s atmosphere, mood and commitment to social justice.