Walking in downtown Camden with her two young daughters, Amanee Abdur-Rahmaan stopped to take a break on the steps of the majestic Tabernacle of Faith Church. It provided the perfect setting for an impromptu photo of the girls.
Her photo of Xoia Manal, 9 and Nuhaa Bint Naeem, 6, was selected as the first winner of the “A New View” social media photo contest, which asked residents and visitors to take photographs of “something beautiful” in Camden and give outsiders a chance to see the city in new ways.
Abdur-Rahmaan, 29, said she was walking on Cooper Street with her daughters, and Nuhaa needed a break. So they stopped at the church. She pulled out her phone and snapped a few random shots of her favorite subjects.
“We just happened to go walking by,” she said. “It’s just something I like to do."
The contest is part of a $1 million project to transform six illegal dumping sites from eyesores into art attractions. Planners hope that the photographs will help change stereotypes about the city and inspire the artists who will be chosen to design art installations.
“We are so excited about it,” said Meishka Mitchell, vice president of Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, which is spearheading the project along with the city and the Rutgers-Camden Center for the Arts. “We are changing the perception that people have of the city of Camden.”
Camden was among five cities that received grants in January from the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge. More than 200 cities with at least 30,000 residents were invited to submit proposals for projects targeting civic issues and demonstrate an ability to generate public-private collaborations, celebrate creativity and urban identity, and strengthen local economies.
“A New View” is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The photo contest is the first phase of the Camden project to create public art spaces.
Eyesores near walking and bicycle paths, the PATCO High-Speed Line, the NJ Transit River Line, and the Walter Rand Transportation Center will get a new look with art. The sites, which also include the North Camden, Gateway, Whitman Park, and East Camden neighborhoods, are being cleaned up and prepared this year, officials say.
According to Mayor Frank Moran, illegal dumping costs the struggling 9-square-mile city of about 70,000 people more than $4 million annually. City workers are constantly cleaning vacant lots filled with tires, televisions, and piles of rubbish.
Mitchell said proposals from artists are expected in August. About 18 finalists will be selected to present their proposal to a committee and the public in September, and six artists will be chosen in November to do art projects, she said.
The art could be a sculpture, mural, fountain, mosaic, or landscape design, Mitchell said. The installations will begin in May 2020 and be completed by October 2020, she said.
Mitchell said planners believe the photographs will help the artists shape their vision for their artwork. The city hopes the artists will help create places where residents can congregate. The photo contest runs through Aug. 23; a winner is selected on Tuesdays.
In the first week of the photo contest, more than 100 entries were submitted that run the gamut, including people, landscapes, sunsets, buildings, and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. Even more entries are expected in the remaining weeks, Mitchell said. A grand prize winner will be selected Aug. 30 and receive a $250 prize.
On Tuesday, another winner was announced. Devon Holland captured an image of men sitting at a picnic table intensely playing a game of chess. The honorable mentions included photos of a cat, a flower, a musician, and children cleaning up a park.
Abdur-Rahmaan, a marketing and visual specialist and a lifelong city resident, said she plans to take more photographs to show Camden as more than a city once described as the most violent and dangerous place to live in America. An aspiring architect, she especially loves to photograph Camden’s beautiful buildings.
“If you have a creative perspective, the city is a beautiful place,” she said this week. “I can find beauty anywhere here."
To enter the contest, share your photo via any social media platform and tag it @ANewViewCamden or upload to www.anewviewcamden.com.