Portrait of Kitchener
May 16, 2011 10:14 AM   Subscribe

Portrait of Kitchener
I'm the artist-in-residence for the city of Kitchener, Ontario this year (2011). My project is to photograph 1,000 or more people within the city to create a photographic documentary of the diversity of our community.

I take the photos at different events through the year; so far I've done it at: ground floor of city hall, a family day celebration, a rave and at a soup kitchen. I'll continue at a farmer's market, our Pride event, the Multicultural Festival, the Blues Festival, our literary event Word on the Street, a youth-oriented concert, and similar well-attended events culminating at KW Oktoberfest's keg tapping ceremony. (I also am presenting five free photography workshops.)

To make the portraits consistent and representative of people (as opposed to situations), I set up consistent studio backgrounds, lighting and the same lens, camera, F-stop and photographer position, so it's not possible to associate the specific events, locations or time-of-day with the people in the photographs.

So far I have 486 portraits, though not all of them are online. They're posted several a day to the project blog, along with sporadic commentary and announcements. I won't stop if I pass 1000 before I hit the final planned event; I'll keep going. I promised a thousand; I like to over-deliver.

The portraits will be shown in an exhibition in December 2010 in our city hall gallery. They'll also be used by the city in its 2012 centennial celebrations. Once I'm done the photography, I'll create a PDF book that can be downloaded for free, as well as a paper edition that people can buy. There will also be a massive leather-bound book for the city's permanent collection (if they want it; it's an optional commission).

This is a challenging project, not only due to the pre-event planning needed but for the amount of equipment that must be toted around and the technical precision needed to match the lighting (which is not always perfect). It also would not be possible without the help of two or three volunteers at each event to help explain the project and the photo release form that must be signed.

Nevertheless, I've found it tremendously rewarding not only for how many people I get to meet and interact with, but due to the changes and connections that can be made across communities just through the simple act of photography.
Role: Artist-in-residence
posted by seanmpuckett (5 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Am I correct in assuming you mean December 2011 for the city hall project?
posted by sardonyx at 11:08 AM on May 17, 2011

Once I'm done the photography

Haha, you do this too? I never heard this turn of phrase in the US, but in the past year I've noticed that my (Ontarian) husband uses it all the time and the kids and I seem to have picked it up from him. "When you're done your dinner", "I'm done my work", etc. Too funny. Is it a Canadian thing in general or just an Ontario thing?

As I said the other day, I think you're getting such great shots of people, especially under the constraints of taking so many shots at a time with such a short time per person; the portraits are coming out excellent. I can't wait to see what they look like all together at the end of the year.
posted by flex at 11:21 AM on May 17, 2011

Sardonyx: Yeah, 2011. Oops.

Flex: yeah, I picked it up from my Hamilton-born wife. It seems so natural and yet so freaking bizarre at the same time. Some of the portraits from the Kitchen are starting to hit the blog and it's really cool to see them show up!
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:34 AM on May 18, 2011

The equipment for each photo shoot fits in a golf bag which can be taken on the bus or walked to nearby locations: we do not own a car, though we do have access to vehicles through our local carshare. We have set-up and take-down of the equipment down to about half an hour each, plus 10-20 minutes to get the lighting right.

In well trafficked locations, there is enough work to keep four volunteers busy explaining the project and getting consent/model release forms signed while seanmpuckett takes up to three portraits a minute. The combination of near-constant talking and energy levels required to interact with people limit effective sessions to about 2 hours; the soup kitchen was a treat in many ways but notably for the relatively slow pace that saw us taking portraits for over 4 hours and interacting more meaningfully with people.

Part of what makes the project work is the lack of "portrait studio" formality: people look like themselves, not people who are getting their picture taken. Several of my colleagues who are following the project have made favourable comments to me about the "realness" of the portraits.
posted by thatdawnperson at 10:22 AM on May 18, 2011

The first prints have gone up in Kitchener City Hall. I'll add more prints as the months progress.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:26 PM on May 30, 2011

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