This project is a series of portraits of people belonging to vulnerable, marginalized communities (the African-American, LBGTQ, immigrant and religious minority communities) in and around Columbia, Missouri. These communities share a history of oppression and discrimination in our society, and with the alarming rise in bigotry and racism since the presidential election, it has become urgent that each of them be seen and celebrated, and that they find their rightful place within the tapestry of our humanity.
Being seen is the first step toward being accepted, hence this project: to give a face, and a voice, to people who have been and continue to be largely invisible, when not stigmatized. It is also my hope that this project, by bringing these otherwise diverse communities together in intersectional dialogue (a Sunday intersectional brunch is in the make,) will help bridge the gaps between them and help them unite in order to better fight systemic, institutional and pervasive discrimination.
The portraits are taken against a neutral background in studio as a formal way of underlining our common humanity. I am asking of each person that I photograph to submit a personal statement (whose format can range from a poem to a song to a personal narrative or even artwork) about who they are, framed within the sense of their belonging to one, or more, of these marginalized communities and what it means to them. A website is being build that will showcase each person's statement and video recording of their statement, in addition to their portrait (in the meantime statements are visible, when available, under each portrait's caption.)
To date there are no established, organized and comprehensive records of the history of the African-American community in Columbia (photographs of old Black churches, photographs of community members, original documents and deeds, business records, artifacts, etc.) Only recently has the Blind Boone House been open to the public, and the erasure of the historic African-American neighborhood of Sharp End in the 1960s remains largely ignored. Through the tireless efforts of Bill Thompson and many others, work is finally under way to address that injustice. This project aims to help with that movement by adding a visual record.
The LGBTQ community in and around Columbia has largely been invisible until now, and continues to face discrimination and live in fear even though much progress has been made. Yet in Columbia and elsewhere its members cure diseases, run dance schools, teach, and run homeless shelters, among other achievements. They are who we are; they are our sisters, our brothers, our neighbors. Like the African-American community, they are part of the tapestry of who We are.
There is no official documentation of the immigrant and refugee community in Columbia either, and with President Trump’s aggressive policies of targeting undocumented immigrants and Muslims, many have gone deeper into hiding, and essentially been silenced. Yet immigrants enrich our community in many ways, not least the likelihood that they will contribute at the highest level to the economic, scientific and artistic vitality of our country. Like the African-American community and the LGBTQ community, immigrants and refugees need to be seen, their place in our community recognized, their achievements and humanity celebrated.
This is who We are.