To deny that I was disappointed with the city that is New York on that warm June morning would be dishonest. I’d had just walked the length of Houston Street’s First Street Green Park where I’d installed a series of portraits from across all 50 states along the outside of its fence. Of the 86 large-scale portraits combining to extend 350 feet in length — longer than a football field — 52 had been heavily tagged by one or more vandals. On some, the tagging partially obscured the face or body, on most however, some form of semi-legible commentary about the subject was scrawled in large loping letters next to the subject’s head. Visually, the effect was devastating.
I’d begun working on this series in 2015 by photographing men and women from Logan Heights, a historically Hispanic and African-American community of San Diego where I lived. After having only recently moved in, I wished to document my neighbors and through them create a portrait of the neighborhood that we now shared.
Using a high-resolution medium format camera, I created uniformly lit portraits of shop owners, mechanics, military retirees, the local city councilman and other inhabitants of the neighborhood. I then exhibited the resulting four feet by five prints on the outside of the fence surrounding my home — which was conveniently situated near a well-traveled intersection in the midst of where my subjects live and work.
Through these dramatically enlarged photos, local residents (and later those from all across the city) were able to witness the character of their fellow neighbors in ways with which they could intimately connect and identify. I purposefully did not remove the photos to some far off exhibition space where community members would have been unable to experience them. Instead, the photos lived in the community where they could uplift and honor the people exhibited and, by extension, the entire neighborhood. In that spirit, I decided to name the project Neighbors.
Word quickly got out and favorable press soon followed. The success of the project encouraged me to photograph individuals in other locations in other states. Eventually, in March of 2016, I made the commitment to travel to all 50 states (plus Washington D.C.) to create a body of portrait work able to represent a cross-section of America. Taking advantage of my RV that I’d purchased just for such photographic adventures, I systematically crisscrossed the vast continent in search of portrait-worthy subjects.
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