It takes both imagination and a sense of playfulness to say yes when a stranger approaches and says: “You look great and I’d love to make your picture.” After all, it’s far easier, less risky, to say no. At the very least, it’s inconvenient – I use a large camera and making these images takes time. Yet all of the pictures are a consequence of that simple yes and the suspension of distrust it implies.
What occurs then is a kind of collaboration and performance on both sides of the camera. For it to work, we both have to come to an accord on what will lead to the most emotionally resonant and believable picture. Just about everyone gets copies of the pictures, and relationships are formed that allow us to try again, often as many as a dozen times over a period of years. The subjects perform enactments of themselves, which I shape into a photograph. You could say they write the lyric and I compose the melody. We do this because it is a pleasure to make pictures. It’s a pleasure to play at image making and create something that wouldn’t otherwise exist.
It’s important to keep in mind that the photograph and the person in the photograph are not the same thing. The people in the pictures move, talk, respond to one another, and their appearance is constantly changing. These images, then, don’t represent the west side, this class, this race, even this time. All of that has an existence that is independent of this work and is beyond the scope of photography. In the end, the work is about establishing and playing with a sequence of relationships: between myself and my subjects, between the formal elements in the pictures, between one image and another, and between the viewer and the photograph.
Let me say something about a question that I’m often asked. “What’s it like to be white and photograph in a community that is Black and poor?” I live in the same city as my subjects, I live in the same state, the same country – I live on the same planet as my subjects. In fact, compared to all the things that move on this planet, I photograph those most like me, humans. That is the wisdom, written almost two thousand years ago, of 1st Corinthians. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body.”
Finally, I want to thank everyone who played along and lent his or her appearance to the pictures. It’s profoundly generous. In return, I have tried to honor these interactions with pictures that show that each of my subjects are as important as any that have appeared in art.