Barry McNamara  |   Published January 19, 2017

What does peace mean?

John Noltner’s photography exhibit provides 58 answers

The meaning of peace is explored in a photography exhibit Monmouth College is helping bring to the community.

Thanks to a partnership with the Buchanan Center for the Arts, photographer John Noltner and his latest show, “A Peace of My Mind: American Stories,” is currently on display in Monmouth.

The exhibit, which features 58 portraits and corresponding 400-word excerpts about the subjects, will be on display in the Buchanan Center, 64 Public Square, through Feb. 9.

Noltner will speak about the exhibit Feb. 8-9 at Monmouth and also visit two classes at the College.

Since 2009, Noltner has asked people the not-so-simple question, “What does peace mean to you?” The question is part of “A Peace of My Mind,” a multimedia art project. The project explores the meaning of peace by combining photographs of diverse subjects and their personal stories. It includes voices of Holocaust survivors, the homeless, political refugees and other individuals.

On Feb. 8, Noltner will address the monthly meeting of Old Friends Talk Art, held at 10 a.m. at the Buchanan Center. Later that day, he will present his gallery talk there at 7 p.m.

Also on Feb. 8, Noltner will speak to College faculty member Dan Ott’s class on Martin Luther King Jr. He’ll work with a digital photography class on Feb. 9, talking about his techniques and his sense of vocation as a photographer and artist.

“The last time John was here (in 2015), both the College and local communities were really taken with the photos and stories that he had made and collected,” Ott said.

One story in particular will be of interest to Ott’s class, as Noltner met with Joanne Bland, who was 11 years old when she marched with King in 1965.

Noltner traveled a total of 40,000 miles through 46 states on nine trips over a three-year span for his latest project, which follows a previous “A Peace of My Mind,” a series done closer to his Minneapolis home. He said about 70 percent of the interviews were arranged in advance, “and the rest is serendipity.” That was the case with Bland, whom he met in Selma, Ala., after his original interview subject in Alabama had to cancel.

After conducting scores of interviews through the two projects, Noltner has gained a deeper sense of what peace really means.

“The notion of peace is and should be wrapped around relationships with others,” he said. “Peace is an intentional act – a choice people make. There needs to be a willingness to be patient and comfortable with things you disagree with, whether they’re political, spiritual or any number of things.”

Noltner said that means eliminating “knee-jerk reactions and hearing the full story while recognizing the humanity of the other person.”

Noltner’s photographs have been published in several national magazines, including National Geographic Traveler, AARP, Health, Smithsonian and Business Week.

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