Our first Community Day at the Boston Center for the Arts (BCA) resulted in many surprising trades and exchanges. After just three weeks of photographing and wandering in this small south end neighborhood I settled on a few recurring themes: the first one is the driving force for the project and considers the people who work and live in this diverse neighborhood. Anyone who agreed to collaborate on making their portrait received a voucher, which they could exchange for a gifted photograph from the project at one of three Community Days at the BCA. All of the participants were strangers who I met walking on the street through a variety of serendipitous circumstances. We usually begin with a passing comment which then grows into a lengthier conversation and eventually the camera comes into play. I am still learning how to make good portraits – something that genuinely honors and captures a person’s likeness. Actually I am terrified every time I begin and this is one of the reasons I am pushing myself to do this project. I work with either my 4×5 camera (as in this first photograph below) or my DSLR:
I am also recording the neighborhood using a Holga, which is a plastic pinhole camera. The architecture, small shops and abundant churches are reminiscent of an earlier time which makes the use of B+W film more appropriate. Making silver prints in the darkroom rekindles this relationship even further.
And finally, some days (and late nights) I need to record the neighborhood in color
Receiving the institutional support from the BCA for this project is making a huge difference to its success. First I have a studio in the neighborhood where over these last several weeks I’ve been able to return to and warm up (average temp these past weeks = 40 degrees!) and it helps knowing my production costs are covered. I am looking forward to the weather warming up, which is bound to create more opportunities for photographing people.
There were many highlights to the first Community Exchange Day. Eugene Finney did an amazing job converting the studio building entryway into a pop-up gallery and interns Bridget Lynch and Hannah Adams were on hand to help coordinate the exchanges.
I met Bob walking down the street and ended up spending a lovely afternoon in his home along with his partner Fred. They each received a voucher and it was a wonderful reunion when they showed up to exchange their vouchers for photographs. They have lived in the South End since 1965 so it is especially gratifying to hear from them how well they believe I am capturing the spirit of the neighborhood.
I received 5 vouchers back in trade and in the last hour when the exchange was opened up to anyone in the community I received 9 more trades. I have more work to do in regards to finding ways of getting participants to return . Ultimately I want to re-gift the entire portfolio back out to the community. I learned from some visitors that many of the workers who participated were unable to come because they were at their jobs. I hope to address this in my next Community Day which will take place in the evening after work (May 15th 6:30-9:30pm). Over the next month I will be looking for each of them to make sure they are aware of this opportunity. This is one of the challenges with this project.
A very gratifying but exhausting three weeks, I am looking forward to getting back to the neighborhood to continue building the project. Walking home that evening with my girlfriend Susie we were greeted with this encouraging sight: a confluence of flight paths in the fading sky