The Art of Diversity: Snapshots of Oak Park

MolonyBy Julie Chyna

If you visited the Main Branch of the library last September, you may have seen the exhibit “Oak Parkers: Portrait of a Village” in the art gallery. This photography installation included portraits of 52 Oak Parkers, including leaders, business owners, and other interesting characters, and showed their connections to one another. The photographer for this ambitious project was Eileen Molony.

Originally from Ennis in County Clare, on the west coast of Ireland, Molony moved to San Francisco after graduating from college.

“I had older siblings living there so I used to visit in the summers,” she explains. “Then the summer after graduation when I was visiting, I met the man who is now my husband and ended up staying.”

After a few years in San Francisco, the couple moved to Alabama where Molony became involved in launching an alternative arts center.

“There was a giant, old factory space,” she says. “A group of us got together and started holding arts festivals, where one night we’d have a band and some kind of visual art display, and another night we’d have a little film festival. Now the building actually has over 100 artists in residency.”

Molony and her husband then moved to Chicago area, where they lived in the south suburbs for a short time and were surprised by the lack of diversity.

“That was shocking to me, to be in America and have everyone be so similar,” she says. “And since there were no sidewalks where we were living, everyone drove everywhere and tended to stay in their little bubble. No one looked anyone in the eye. So when we started thinking about where we would want to live with our children, it was very important to me to live in a diverse area, where I could walk or ride my bike to get around.”

While Molony did quite a bit of fine art photography in her pre-parenthood days, after her children were born, she found herself focusing more on portraiture and commercial photography.

“Once I had kids, it was harder to separate my head space between being present for my children and developing those large scale creative ideas,” she explains. “It was also hard to just find the time.”

But the creative ideas kept creeping in. “There were a few people and places around town that I just really wanted to photograph—like Pieritz Brothers, with those wonderful old typewriters on display. And then it grew into the Oak Parkers project.”

The original plan was for Molony to take one portrait a week for a year, but scheduling around her own full-time job and everyone else’s meant that the project actually took two years.

“It ended up being very time-consuming,” she says, “but it was a really nice bridge between my fine art and my other photography work.”

Molony says she doesn’t have a new fine art project underway yet, but “I have stuff in my head that needs to come out and be done.”

More of Molony’s work can be seen on her website, http://www.emphotography.net/.

Photo above is a portion of Molony’s Portrait of a Village piece. Molony is at lower left, holding the camera.