Since February 27th I’ve been doing a daily art project. I set out on a walk, a different route each day, and take portraits of people I encounter along the way. We chat a bit, I ask a couple (difficult) questions, then I upload the photo and a paraphrased quote onto my website. I basically took the Humans of New York model and applied it locally. I firmly believe, however, that the outcome here is quite different since we are dealing with an intimate population of 20,000 versus New York’s 8.4 million. There’s less room for anonymity in this cozy town.
I firmly believe that everyone has a story worth hearing. And odds are, once you hear what a person has to say, something about it will relate to you. Whether it’s a resonating detail or an emotional commonality, our stories connect us. Our pasts can be foreign, our skin colors different, and our beliefs contrary – but we are all human, and not really all that different.
Here’s how it usually plays out – I approach someone and say, “Excuse me, I’m an artist here in town and I’m doing a photography project on people here in Carrboro. I am hoping you wouldn’t mind if I took your photo.” This is when folks always look at me funny, maybe ask me to explain the project, possibly inquire how I am benefitting financially (I am not at all), then answer according to their level of comfort. I’d say 90% of the folks I ask agree to participate. And to date, only 1 in the 80ish total portraits I’ve taken and posted has asked to be removed.
This project has been a stretch for me. Though I am fascinated each time I meet someone new, I always have a tough time getting started. Even if you know me well, you might not realize that social situations are emotionally draining on me. In fact, I am far more comfortable watching on the sidelines than I am in the thick of things. Additionally, I’m not a very confident conversationalist. So ‘cold-calling’ someone on the street induces a lot of anxiety. It’s not uncommon for me to walk for hours before I get up the guts to approach one person for a photo.
I am committing to the project for at least one year – with a minor, 6-week break in the action (May 21-July 2) when I will be trekking across Oregon and then attending my MFA residency.
An old friend of mine from back in my Aptos days, Ken Dobberpuhl, once told me that every day we need to do something that scares us. Well, I’m definitely following his advice – but more importantly, I am meeting some wonderful people. And hopefully, by association, you are too. We are all in this together. The least we can do is get to know each other.
This could be anywhere…even though it’s not. Check it out: WE ARE CARRBORO