Q&A: ‘Bypassed’ Creator Sarah Alderman

The Coatesville native highlights the city and its people in her upcoming interactive documentary.

All photos by Sarah Alderman

Growing up Coatesville, Chester County’s only city, Sarah Alderman loved the history that surrounded her. At the age of 13, she left her familiar home and moved to Honey Brook. When she did, that feeling for Coatesville deteriorated slightly, compounded by external views of the city and it’s supposedly bad reputation. Knowing it intimately, she felt otherwise, though the negative feelings would occasionally linger. Despite moving away, she maintained a connection, frequently visiting her grandmother, who lived in Coatesville.

Years later, Alderman is proud of her roots. A professional photographer, Alderman put her passion for Coatesville and her skills to work to create an interactive documentary, Bypassed. The web-based project beautifully combines photography, documentary-style interviews, audio and written word to tell the stories of Coatesville’s residents in the hopes of dispelling some of the negative connotations and replacing them with the voices of its people.

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Alderman as a girl

The documentary has been over a year in the making. To help launch it, Alderman crowd funded and successfully met her goal, allowing her to work with other creative individuals to bring the project to fruition. Coatesville native Ryan Beacher served as the director of photography and local spoken word poet Aadil Mailk lent his voice to the project.

Alderman plans to launch Bypassed to the public in mid to late 2017. Here, she shares her inspiration.

MLT: What was your inspiration for creating Bypassed?

SA: I had envisioned for a long time, even before I was a photographer and could have executed the project, doing a photo documentary about Coatesville. I grew up in the heart of the city during a time when the demographics were really shifting. Lukens had all but closed their operations. The steel mill is operational but it’s such a dwindled capacity. I had seen a lot of people moving out and had sort of watched the downtown scene dry up. A lot of business closed. I sort of look at everything as an ebb and flow, so I’m thinking, here we are, in the ebb, surely the flow is coming soon. I wanted to capture Coatesville at that moment in time.

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MLT: Why an interactive documentary?

SA: I can’t speak for the Coatesville experience—I haven’t lived in the city of for 12 years, and even if I still did, there are many other people, from many different backgrounds, having many different experiences within the city. I wanted to give people the opportunity to place their stories alongside others to give a more complete picture of a Coatesville experience. I knew right away I wanted to incorporate film and I didn’t just want to do a photo essay anymore, because I want the opportunity to show people what its like to move through the city, to move through the outskirts, the farmland. I loved the way there was the blending of audio stories with photographs, written stories with film.

MLT: Did you have any reservations about sharing the project?

SA: I was just so nervous to put it out there because this project is beyond something I just picked to do. It’s so much of my heart that any rejection—it hits harder than a commissioned project. It was really amazing seeing who supported the project. The project is really intended for those outside of Coatesville. I hope it gives the people of Coatesville something to be excited about and proud of, a work that makes them very proud to affiliate with Coatesville. I want these voices to reach people outside of Coatesville, mostly because I think there’s just such a misunderstanding about who the people of Coatesville are on so many levels.

MLT: Who are the voices of Bypassed?

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SA: Our stories range from young people to seniors, people who want to talk about the history of Coatesville, but more so were focused on present day, future hopes and dreams. We’re highlighting a lot of young people in the community on their individual journeys—high school students—how they sort of found their path, where they are on it, what their experience growing up in Coatesville has done to help them along, what barriers they encountered. Growing up in Coatesville myself, with the stigma, was really damaging to my self-worth. I don’t want kids to feel that way.

MLT: Will you continue to add to the project in the future?

SA: I hope so. I would like to have a big release and then sort of turn it over to the community where the stories continue to evolve. I would like for it to be designed so that the community can make what it wants of it. What I love about this online format is that there is a limitless capability and Coatesville is certainly on the brink of some sort of big change right now, and it could be very interesting to keep up with that as things go on.

MLT: What would you say, from your own experience, is the biggest misconception about Coatesville?

SA: I think the biggest hurdle is that people hear a reputation and then never bother to investigate for themselves. I really think there are real challenges that Coatesville faces, but there are also just false ideas about what Coatesville is and I think that’s the bigger problem.

MLT: How do you hope Bypassed combats preconceived misconceptions?

SA: Just giving people an opportunity to hear from the voices in Coatesville and to see what the organizations in Coatesville are doing, how the businesses feel about being located there.

MLT: What do you hope for the future of Coatesville?

SA: I hope that the people with the power to change things, the people in leadership, listen to the community when they say what they need. I want to see businesses come there and be proud that they’re one of the establishing forces in Coatesville’s revitalization and providing jobs to the community. I want the young people who live in Coatesville to feel proud of where they’re from.

MLT: How do you feel about the release of Bypassed?

SA: One the happiest days of my life will be when we get to show a completed segment to somebody and see them react to it. The project is for Coatesville—not just the city. I want that wall that exists to dissolve and for people to think differently about one another. A huge part of our projects is shedding light on individuals and organizations who are doing beautiful work, unseen and unheard.

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