Labor of Love
Thanks to Janis Antonek, Greensboro Daily Photo reveals
slices of life in the Gate City for all to see
By Maria Johnson
Two thousand nine had just hatched, and Janis Antonek had a lot possibilities whispering to her.
She had new laptop.
And an almost-empty nest.
And a persistent photography habit.
And a desire to discover more about her city.
So she rang in the New Year by launching a new website: Greensboro Daily Photo (greensborodailyphoto.com).
In the nine years since, she has dutifully posted photos of local people and places every day.
Every. Single. Day.
She doesn’t lug her Nikon D-7000 around every day – weekdays, she’s a Spanish teacher for Guilford County Schools — but weekends find her covering serious ground. She logs five to 10 miles on foot and more behind the wheel in pursuit of snaps that capture the diversity and beauty of Greensboro.
She takes around 1,000 photos on most weekends. She might use 10 of them, enough to last the week and provide a cushion until her next foray.
With her leather clogs and long lens, Antonek’s a regular at street festivals, farmers markets, community concerts, fairs and other public events. She patrols downtown Greensboro. She haunts parks and trails. She roves historic sites. She interviews people she knows and people she doesn’t know. She supplements her reportage with online research, which she sometimes transforms into meaty cut lines, or descriptions of her photos.
A passionate amateur, this camera bug’s not going to win a Pulitzer for her images, but that’s not the point. The point is to celebrate the depth and breadth of Greensboro.
That was the spirit that guided her in 2009, when she joined City Daily Photo, a web portal that began in Paris in 2005 and now links to hundreds of daily photo blogs from around world.
There, Greensboro Daily Photo rubs shoulders with
Guatemala Daily Photo, Grenoble Daily Photo and Cairo/Giza Daily Photo.
Like most affiliates, Antonek follows the portal’s suggested themes and regular features. On the first day of every year, she posts what she considers to be her best photo from the previous year.
The winner for 2017: A picture from the National Folk Festival’s final run in Greensboro last September.
From time to time, Antonek tackles the “A to Z” format, which requires her to feature something that starts with each letter of the alphabet.
“Can you imagine: It’s Sunday night, and you’re worried about what your ‘Z’ is going to be?” she says.
She recalls interviewing local hotelier and restaurateur Dennis Quaintance.
“He said, ‘You needed a ‘q,’ didn’t you?’ I said, ‘Well, I could have done (High Point University president) Nido Qubein, but I chose you.’ He felt a little better,” says Antonek.
She admits that her ardent volunteerism — she gets no real money for her efforts; only a trickle of income from Google ads, and that doesn’t even cover her site fees — can be a grind.
“As my husband says, ‘Every day comes around pretty often.’ It’s a lot of work, but it’s my education, too,” says Antonek.
She makes sure her students at the Middle College at UNCG know about her nonpaying job.
“When you teach school, you have to model community service and make them realize that everything you do is not for money,” says Antonek.
Her husband, David Thompson, provides technical and emotional support for her extracurricular life. He understands when she runs out of the house in the middle of a power outage to find a Panera restaurant with wifi so she can make her deadline.
“It’s probably become too much of an obsession,” she says. “But it’s not about me. It’s about the community.”
She’s serious about her responsibility to a larger community.
A first-generation college graduate and self-described lifelong learner, Antonek grew up in Morgantown, West Virginia.
“I try very hard to be a poster child for West Virginia because it has such a bad reputation,” she says. “You want to represent well.”
Her father worked for the tax department. Her mother was a men’s barber in an era when few women rented chairs in male-dominated shops. Her mother later opened a single-chair barbershop for herself. She preferred men as clients.
“She said women complained all the time, and the men complained only if their wives didn’t like their haircuts,” says Antonek.
During Antonek’s senior year in high school, her cousin gave her an old camera and showed her how to use it. Photography blossomed into a hobby during her lengthy college years — undergrad at West Virginia University, grad school at Auburn University and a doctoral program at the University of Pittsburgh.
As a student of language and education, she has traveled to almost 50 countries. She speaks English, Spanish and rusty-but-retrievable Russian. Her paternal grandparents immigrated from Ukraine, so an appreciation of different cultures infuses her personal life and her photography.
“I do think I’m so committed to GDP because I am global-minded and want to know about the rest of the world — and for the rest of the world to learn things about my community,” she says.
She migrated to Greensboro 1996 to teach foreign language education at UNCG. She took the place of Jane Tucker Mitchell, who became a mentor and friend.
Today Mitchell serves as a core reader of Antonek’s posts, urging her to avoid cute titles and to use relevant search terms.
“I think she’s archiving some things that will be valuable in the future,” says Mitchell, noting that Antonek’s fact-filled cutlines set her blog apart from other daily photo sites.
“She’s a good writer, and she knows how to write about what’s important,” Mitchell says.
Since its inception, Greensboro Daily Photo has racked up more than 700,000 page views, with an average of more than 200 page views a day. That’s not counting Facebook views.
Readership spikes when Antonek features places with active online communities. Anything about the neighborhoods Lindley Park and Sunset Hills gets gobbled up. A recent post about Greensboro-based business Replacements Ltd. snared 700 views.
Among her devoted readers are former Mayor Keith Holliday — he once called, worried because he was no longer getting daily emails, but the problem was on his end and was easily fixed — and civic stalwart Betty Cone.
“She’s been a very good, behind-the-scenes reader. It makes you want even more to get it right,” says Antonek.
And positive. Antonek makes no apologies for avoiding controversial topics, although sometimes she stumbles into them. Take the time that she posted a picture of a feral cat.
The backlash against feral cats caught Antonek by surprise.
Antonek didn’t blink. She views herself as
a documentarian, not an editorialist. At the
same time, she goes to lengths to be inclusive
Recently, Antonek posted a picture of a sculpture by Greensboro artist Jim Gallucci. The piece, constructed from wreckage from the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, was installed at the corner of South Elm Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Gallucci’s sculpture replaced a bust of MLK, which caused some grumbling. Antonek made sure to note that the bust will be renovated and moved to another location downtown. She also posted the link to a picture of the bust that she snapped in the first month of Greensboro
“I try to cast the net widely and not get just my vision of the community,” she says.
One recent Saturday morning, Antonek visited photographer Toni Shaw in her studio at HQ Greensboro, a shared workspace on Lewis Street. (See Antonek’s post on December 30.)
Shaw, 52, is known for her portraiture and wedding photography. Her corporate clients include UnitedHealthCare, Wells Fargo and Delhaize America, the parent company of
Shaw’s Go Click! photography workshops attract students from all over the country. Last year, she landed on a list of BAUCE pronounced boss) magazine’s list of 16 successful black female photographers
She and Antonek got to know each other when their daughters were students at Jones Elementary, a Spanish immersion school.
On that Saturday, they hugged in recognition. They caught up on family, talked photography, snapped each other’s pictures and laid the groundwork to see each other again.
Shaw was planning to move to a new studio, an artists’ workspace called Studio 503 on East Washington Street.
Antonek scribbled in her notepad, guaranteeing that the new studio and its denizens will show up in future photos. Her work is self-sustaining this way: Every picture she takes and every contact she makes lead to more.
“There’s a lot of serendipity in these photos,” she says.
Back on the street, Antonek lamented the decline of local print journalism that touches
all quarters. That motivates her to keep her
“If you don’t have something to remind you of what you have in common, you create your own news feed,” she says. OH
Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry magazine. She can be reached at email@example.com.