In this project, Z-one, I photograph those neighbors who live near me in the San Francisco Western Addition precinct, where I’ve lived for almost 21 years. Inspired by my own sense of isolation, I began approaching people on the street to ask to take their photographs in early 2013.
It has brought me into the homes of complete strangers, who, with little hesitation, have been eager to participate. It turns out living in a city surrounded by people is isolating for many. We are crammed up against each other by concrete but might as well have rivers and mountains between us.
The work is shot with a medium format camera, in color film.
I have lived in the same flat in San Francisco for 20 years. But, in early 2013, I looked around and realized I didn’t know any of my neighbors. Not the people above, next door or across the street. Sure, I saw some of them as I walked past where they lived; I looked into their windows; I parked my car in front of their homes. But to see them wasn’t to know them.
My project, Z-one, is about weaving together a community through photography where none existed before. It brings me into the homes of complete strangers, who, with little hesitation, are eager to participate. It turns out living in a city surrounded by people is isolating for many.
I began photographing in early 2013, and I quickly discovered that we share all one thing in common: the need for community.
The project stems from my own personal isolation and invisibility. After two decades here, I don’t know anyone from whom I can borrow a cup of sugar. Estrangement grips me as I pass by people and neither of us say hello. We are crammed up against each other by concrete but might as well have rivers and mountains between us.
I am trying to bridge those divides as I photograph my neighbors’ homes, take their
portraits, and talk to them. I mold our interviews into biographical sketches that are posted onto a Tumblr blog (sfwesternaddition.tumblr.com), along with their photos. That way their story is told both visually and verbally.
The blog comprises the first stitches of our newly quilted community. Participants post it to their Facebook accounts. Comments pile up. Others ask to be photographed. An online and offline community is forming – simultaneously. Social networking working as it was designed: to connect people.
Though the project has its roots in my own sense of isolation, it has also tapped into a broader unrest in the city about our changing landscape. We are in a period of rapid gentrification, stratification and separation. Google buses are being blockaded. Rents are spiraling upward. People are uneasy.
Our neighborhood, if I can still call it that, is the Western Addition, a once predominantly black part of town that has been gentrified and de-gentrified with the Bay Area’s dot-com boom and busts. Now, it is a racially eclectic mix of young people who can pay high rents, people like me who stay because of rent control and a few veteran owners here since the 1970s.
I talk to all of them. And take their pictures.
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