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Categories: Blog, Girls LEAD!, Women & Girls Leadership

Wind couldn’t keep Daytonians away from visiting Downtown Dayton Partnership’s Art in the City community event Aug. 4 – and zero prior modeling experience didn’t stop YWCA Dayton’s Girls Inc. summer campers from shying away from the camera.

For the inaugural Art in the City, YW partnered with local photographer Whitney Saleski on a street photography project – displayed as 40×60” posters underwritten by Digital Fringe – that would highlight downtown Dayton through the eyes of its next generation: girls who live, play, and learn within the city limits.

“This portrait series was a chance to meet and talk to the future of Dayton and, specifically, the strong, smart, bold young women who are making their respective futures happen,” Saleski said. “Dayton continues to grow in every area, and these girls are at the forefront of positive change. I specifically wanted to interview and photograph them at YWCA and around downtown, but at locations of their choosing. This was their time to express themselves.”

Explained Val Beerbower, PR and communication manager for the Downtown Dayton Partnership, “We wanted to create a fun, engaging experience that would draw people to downtown – perhaps to explore something new or be inspired to take advantage of the unique cultural amenities our community offers every day.”

When you mention “art project,” partnering with a social services nonprofit is not what comes to mind first. But, when asked how the project made them feel, Girls Inc. girls were unanimous: Empowered. “I’ve had my picture taken before, but no one has ever asked me what it would mean to me, or had me think about my future impact. Girls Inc. is doing that,” one said.

A (proud!) native Daytonian, Saleski began dabbling in photography in high school. As she writes on her website, “Every time I took a photo of anything, I would immediately send the snapshot to my father, Stanley Saleski. He critiqued each one with sensitivity, diligence, humor, and grace.” Following his death by suicide in October 2014, Saleski started The Stanley Sessions, a photo project featuring people affected by suicide — both those who have lost someone or have attempted it themselves – to reduce the stigma surrounding suicide discussion through photography and the written word. Saleski is also the photographer behind the Bring Back Dayton movement and serves as an ambassador to the Girlgaze Project.

“My favorite part of the Girls Inc. portrait project was seeing their personalities shine more prominently as the assignment continued through the weeks,” she said. “Once I asked them if they were ready for their portraits, they were enthusiastic and happy to spend time with one another! It was a unique and treasured experience I will never forget. The heart of Dayton beats loudly, and includes these future women as its leaders.”

To see more images from Girls Inc. Dayton Portrait Series by Whitney Saleski, click HERE.