In December at the Commons I offered free portraits to clients and friends, volunteers and staff alike. Now perhaps you might think, what do homeless people need with portraits of themselves? Homeless people need homes right? And that's true. But the thing about my portraits is that they are special. My pictures are not just any image of you. My pictures show they show people how beautiful they are. How real they are. How connected they are. And people need that. All people. People with houses and people without.
I showed up early and drank coffee and kissed babies and shook hands and commiserated about the cold and I waved my tiny camera around and asked people "Would you like your portrait taken?"
People said "Yes" or they said "No."
I liked that it was so clear, 2016 being the year of consent and all. I want my work to be consensual and the more I am clear about what I want the more I attract the people who desire this thing to happen to them which makes the pictures better and truer.
I say 'do you want me to look at you?' and they say 'yes please look at me and tell me what you see.'
I said 'thank you' to the people who said 'yes' and 'thank you' to the people who said 'no'.
I said "What do you want your portrait to look like?"
People said 'lonely,' 'like love,' 'happy,' 'joyful,' 'hopeful,' 'determined,' and 'lost.'
I said (showing them the digital image on the back of my silver mirrorless camera) "Does this show what you are looking for or would you like me to try again?
This seems like the heart of collaborative ethical photography to me. Consent first and foremost. Then building together. Checking in to see if its working or not working. Trying again. Being patient with each other. Listening and exchanging ideas. This is everything I want.
Anyways. The following week was The Commons Christmas Party and the staff printed the portraits and delivered them to the clients, volunteers and staff. People were invited to receive their photo digitally if they had a phone or an email account and they were given printed copies of their pictures and invited to use the envelopes and stamps available to send them to family or friends.
In this way, we danced and feasted and laughed and cried and we shared images of our faces with each other.
And then December was done.
The lights came down and the season was over. When I first signed up to be Artist in Residence at the Commons - the ending of my show and residency in January seemed very far away.
And yet. Here we are.
Time works that way I guess. Always moving forward.
So tomorrow we will meet at the Commons at 7pm for the final event of Grieve and Celebrate (as you are able). A storytelling night in which we put words to our sadness and our happiness. Once again, there will be family and friends, clients and staff, volunteers and strangers among us. Once again we will ask 'Do you want to see me? Do you want me to see you?' and I will say yes, to seeing and being seen. Will you?