Photo Mural at McHenry County College Captures Spirit of Community College Life

Justin Schmitz

A plain purple wall in McHenry County College’s (MCC) Commons area has been enlivened with a photography mural, titled “Trajectory,” that depicts MCC students in different points of their educational journey at the college.

Created by MCC photography instructor Justin Schmitz, the mural is the culmination of six months of photographing and editing during the college’s 50th anniversary in 2017 and was installed earlier this year. Schmitz took 1,000 photos of students in a variety of activities from multiple disciplines and chose 23 students to highlight in the mural, including traditional age students, college athletes, graduates and retirees who enroll in college for self-enrichment.

Some of the subjects overlap onto adjacent panels, creating a look of continuous motion throughout a total of nine unframed panels. The mural measures 42 inches by 210 inches and the archival ink jet print is mounted on sintra.

“I wanted to find students who represent the spirit of the college,” Schmitz said. “The photo is broken up into panels to break up the pace and create a more dynamic and interesting mural.”

Schmitz earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Columbia College in Chicago and his Masters in Fine Arts from Yale University. He has exhibited his work in the U.S. and in Europe. Schmitz said he specializes in capturing the awkwardness of growing up and uncertainty found in moments of transition.

 “A community college represents that transition,” Schmitz said. “It’s a place where a lot of students are, for a small amount of time, leading to a larger pathway; it’s their transition into their next phase.”

Schmitz said he felt a connection with the students he photographed—especially the athletes and his own graduating students.

 “A group of student athletes had a lot of fun being photographed and they were filled with bounding energy.” Schmitz said. “Some of my actual students in this mural were photographed on their graduation day.”

MCC’s art gallery curator Sandra Lang invited Schmitz to create the mural after she saw his work at the college’s annual solo faculty exhibition in 2016, the first year he started teaching at MCC.

“The wall was a prime location for a unique piece of artwork that would energize the space,” Lang said. “I thought Justin’s work would be perfect, because of the scale and the focus on the energy of students. It’s a wonderful addition to our permanent collection.”

Lang said that Schmitz’ mural is one of 700 pieces of art in the college’s permanent collection, not including the Portrait in Print Collection in the library, that includes a diverse selection of pieces by students, faculty, local, regional and national artists.

 “It’s exciting to be able to fill this space in a provocative, eye-catching way and still is grounded in my intention as an artist,” Schmitz said.

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