Telling The Stories Of Neighbors In The Garfield District

May 16, 2014

(Photo by Mark Brodie - KJZZ)
A photography show highlights Garfield residents and tells their stories.

Who exactly are the people in your neighborhood? What do they look like? What’s their story?

Those are some of the questions posed by a new photography exhibit that will be up for one night Friday. It’s put together by the Phoenix-based group Culture is Life, a media arts collective for women of color.

"We live right here in the neighborhood, we’d walk around the streets and do time lapses or just try to do creative things," said Chandra Narcia, one of the photographers on the Faces of Garfield project.

"And we’d see all these interesting people that are walking around the neighborhood and wonder, ‘I wonder what they do.’ Or, just interested in the people around us. So, the project kind of branched out of that interest," Narcia said.

The neighborhood is roughly between 7th and 16th streets, and Van Buren and Moreland. The exhibit shows photos of the people who live there – both those taken by the women of Culture is Life, and those taken and uploaded on Instagram by other residents.

Narcia says one of her favorite aspects of the project was how much pride people had in their community.

"For the most part, we explained what the project is, and everybody was just so happy to talk about it, and proud to take a picture and proud of where they came from," she said.

The three photographers walked around the neighborhood, and just asked the people they saw if they would mind having their picture taken – no door knocking involved. Of the more than a hundred people they asked to photograph, only a few turned them down.

"Well, at first, I was kind of curious to see what they were using it for, what were they planning on doing, which when they told me, I really liked the idea," said Vanessa Ocampo, a third-generation Garfield resident who works in the area. Her photo is one of those that’ll be on display Friday.

"I think the pictures show how close everybody is and how when you live together and you’ve been here for years, you help each other and see more of each other as family and not just as ‘that’s my neighbor,’" Ocampo said. "And I think we have lost that contact a little bit, but with this, I think it’s gonna bring us a lot together, I think it’s gonna bring the community together."

Ocampo isn’t alone in thinking the exhibit will be good for the neighborhood. Photographer Diana Perez-Ramirez says she hopes it’ll show the beauty of the community, and debunk some perceptions about it – including ones she’s witnessed.

"One particular instance, I was walking into the neighborhood, some of my colleagues park their cars in the neighborhood because they’d rather not pay parking, and they asked me if I was gonna walk by myself, that I shouldn’t do that because it was a dangerous neighborhood, that the people there are dangerous. And I was like, ‘Really, do I look dangerous to you?’ And they were like, ‘No, why?’ ‘Cause I’m those people you’re scared of,'" she said.

The three photographers have all lived in Garfield for two years or less – they acknowledge they’re the newbies. But Perez-Ramirez says that’s not a problem for the exhibit.

"As people who haven’t been living here for a long time, we don’t intend to really frame what we’re gonna be telling, as far as the story goes," Perez-Ramirez said. "The way that we did the project was in a way that we just went out and let the neighborhood be, and tell the story."

The photos in the exhibit are paired with comments from residents. The third photographer, Barni Qaasim, says photos alone couldn’t capture what the project was aiming for.

"Photography by itself can be objectifying, but we really were intentional about doing more than that by asking questions, taking feedback, so it was more than just photography, it was the intention of including the community in it," she said.

And, Qaasim says, she hopes it will help people look beyond the low income levels in the neighborhood, and see its value. Perez-Ramirez thinks it could start a conversation.

"Art, being a neutral medium, it brings people together and really have a dialogue about what community means. That’s one of the things that’s refreshing about Garfield, is it is still very community-like," she said.
Faces of Garfield will be up Friday from 5 to 9 p.m. at Verde Park in Phoenix.