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On Love and Loss

Featured Photo from On Love and Loss

Local photographer’s first solo show explores family, history, and tragedy – all with deep ties to our community

Cynthia B. Slaughter never expected a high-school graduation gift to have a lasting impact on her life, yet that’s exactly what happened to the Sanford native.

When Cynthia graduated from Seminole High School in 1977, her older sister, Mary Ann, gave her a Kodak automatic camera.

“I thought, ‘Oh, this is so cool,’” says Cynthia, who began snapping shots of everyone and everything around her. “And then, I’d take the film over to Eckerd drug store and have the pictures processed.”

Cynthia’s photo skills have come a long way since her post-high-school days. The 61-year-old has participated in group exhibits at Crealdé School of Art in Winter Park and elsewhere in Central Florida. Now, the emerging artist’s work is being featured in her first-ever solo show.

Titled Cynthia Slaughter, Documentary Photographer: On Love and Loss, the exhibit is being showcased at the Hannibal Square Heritage Center in Winter Park until January 18, 2021. The Heritage Center was founded in 2007 by Crealdé and the City of Winter Park to pay tribute to the African-American community of the city’s west side.

“I’ve told my sister, ‘You have no idea the seed you planted when you bought me that camera,’” Cynthia says. “Who would have thought?”

In her solo exhibit, Cynthia explores the notions of love and loss through two series of black-and-white pictures. Love is illustrated by images of her  94-year-old mother, Edna Pearl Butler. Cynthia chronicles her mom’s daily life at home, as a volunteer (pre-pandemic) at her church’s food pantry, and on routine trips to the doctor’s office and laundromat. Edna, a longtime Sanford resident, lives in the Midway area with daughter Mary Ann.

“The photographs of my mother display her compassion, strength, faith, love, and determination, which have taught me how to persevere amid any storm,” Cynthia says.

Loss is depicted through somber photos of an all-too-real storm that Cynthia weathered. In 2017, her Orlando home was destroyed by Hurricane Irma and proclaimed to be unlivable by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). She and her husband, Alphonso, had lived in the house for more than 30 years and raised their two children there.

For Cynthia, documenting the extensive damage to her home and the cleanup effort was therapeutic.

“I felt broken down,” she says. “The pictures kind of took my mind away from ‘Woe is me.’ My mom would say, ‘It’s going to be OK. You guys are alive. Everything’s going to be fine.’”

Edna, who was born in Chipley, Florida, moved to Sanford with her husband Nathan in the early 1950s. The couple worked on a celery farm for A. Duda & Sons and had 11 children, one of whom died as an infant. When Nathan passed away in 1975, Edna became the family’s primary breadwinner.

“She’s precious to all of us,” Cynthia says of her mother. “Mom likes the idea that I’m doing what I love with my photography. She says, ‘Baby, one day it’s all going to pay off.’“

Cynthia, who worked for a phone company for 35 years, enrolled in her first photo workshop at Crealdé in 2008. By then, she had switched to digital photography. Cynthia enjoyed the workshop so much that she signed up for additional classes there and was closely mentored by the late Rick Lang, an accomplished photographer and instructor.

With Rick’s encouragement, Cynthia participated in Crealdé’s fellowship program, which gives students free educational opportunities in exchange for hours worked at the school. Now she is mentored by Crealdé executive director Peter Schreyer and is part of the studio artist residency program, designed for those who aspire to a professional career in the arts.

Barbara Chandler, manager of the Hannibal Square Heritage Center, describes On Love and Loss as a revealing exhibit that creates a personal connection with the viewer.

“Cynthia’s photographic body of work is an extension of her core values as a daughter, mother, and photographer,” Barbara says.

Cynthia is excited and a bit nervous about her debut solo show, which consists of more than two dozen images.

“I’m still learning,” she says. “My goal is to create work that evokes emotion with images that you can look at, think about, and relate to. I really love what I do because I sometimes see things that other people don’t see.”

A free opening reception is scheduled for Friday, September 18 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the Heritage Center at 642 West New England Avenue in Winter Park. Visitors are required to wear a mask and maintain social distancing. For details, visit Crealde.org or HannibalSquareHeritageCenter.org.

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