I visited the L.A.N.D. service area on March 22nd, with nothing but a camera and notebook in hand. I had a goal: to engage in conversation with a few community members and use the information they gave me to create a photo essay. I didn’t quite know where to look or how to start such a conversation.
I visualized Washington Park in my head as a place bustling with activity. Unfortunately, due to sixteen inches of snow on the previous day, this dream was not realized. There wasn’t a soul in sight. I saw a peculiar building in the center of Washington Park which turned out to be the Urban Ecology Center. There were a large number of cars in the parking lot, so I decided to have a look to see what was going on. As I walked in, an older African American man clad in a fancy suit asked me how he could help me. A quick glance around revealed that everyone was dressed well, and I can only imagine how much a white 20-something with a notebook and camera would have stood out in the crowd. Embarrassed, I quickly detailed the nature of my Photo Essay. He explained that they were throwing a retirement party for his mother. Although the encounter would have been impossible to document on film, the experience of such a gathering gave me vital clues to understanding the nature of this community.
Next, I walked to 42nd and Garfield, a pleasant residential neighborhood with decent-sized houses. I was most fortunate to encounter Wilmore, a resident who was attempting to remove some of the snow that had fallen the previous day. As we passed, he looked up and said hello. I took advantage of the opening and explained my intents. Wilmore was very proud of his neighborhood. He said that the block he lived on was mostly working class, and it certainly showed. I asked him if he had seen any changes in the past or if he saw anything big coming on the horizon for the community. At this point, Wilmore mentioned that he had only lived here for a little over a year – but luck had it that one of his neighbors, Ms. Aniakudo, had just pulled up to her house. He informed us that she had lived on this block longer than anyone he knew. Ms. Aniakudo was delighted at my interest and invited me inside her home to talk. I asked her primarily about the businesses of the area. She said the number one issue that most residents have with the businesses on Lisbon is surprisingly parking. She commented that the area she lives in is slightly more upscale than some of the surrounding areas.
I felt that this experience brought me closer to the reality of the Lisbon community. I was surprised by the amount of beautiful things that I saw that I felt drawn to take a picture of. My encounters with the residents were completely positive, albeit embarrassing. This experience also planted a desire in me to improve my ability to engage in conversation with people who have so much to share.