Published September 08. 2016 5:49PM | Updated September 08. 2016 5:58PM
The Day – Joe Standart revisits faces of New London in 10th Anniversary Portraits project – News from southeastern Connecticut 9/26/16, 10:55 AM
By Amy J. Barry
George Clark, arts lover and activist, always can be found downtown. Here he is in 2006, left, and 2016. (Joe Standart)
A city is more than its architecture and art galleries, its restaurants and music scene. A city is also more than its statistics on housing and crime and schools and poverty. A city is really about its people â€” from the factory workers, police officers and lawyers to the artists, musicians and business owners.
Cities and the people who inhabit them are the focus of Lyme photographer Joe Standard (http://joestandart- photos.photoshelter.com/index), creator of the national project â€œPortrait of America (http://www.portraitofamerica.org),â€ which â€œholds a mirror up to a community to reveal whatâ€™s already there â€” the inherent dignity and promise of its people,â€ he says.
Standart kicked off the project in New London in 2004 (http://www.theday.com/article/20060622/DAYARC/306229988/0/Search), mounting large-scale portraits of the cityâ€™s residents throughout downtown, creating an outdoor gallery that was viewed by more than 700,000 people.
Now, a decade later, The New London Project 10th Anniversary Portraits exhibition opens Saturday at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum (http://www.lymanallyn.org/). Residents Standart photographed in 2006 are displayed next to their 2016 selves, a total of 25 pairs of images.
Standart explains that his original concept was to explore how a dignified portrait would affect how people see themselves, whether it would change their point of view.
â€œIf a corporate executive can go hire a fancy photographer to make a fabulous portrait that makes him look important, how would a gorgeous portrait make somebody who is either homeless or just a regular person feel?â€ he asks.
After photographing 30 or 40 individuals, Standart realized he was actually creating a portrait of the city itself, through images of a full range of people, all ages and racial, religious and ethnic backgrounds.
Eliza Brown and her dad, Anthony Brown, in 2006, left, and Eliza, now 13, in 2016. (Joe Standart)
â€œIâ€™ve always been interested in the genre of photography that incorporates time into still photographs,â€ he says, explaining why he decided to photograph the same subjects 10 years later. â€œSo you capture somebody in an instant in 2006, whatâ€™s happened to that person? Itâ€™s almost a psychological sidebar to the project that adds depth and meaning to it.
â€œMy desire is to use my imagery the best I can to break down barriers between different people,â€ he says, â€œand create a sense of familiarity between people who donâ€™t know each other â€” even in the same city. In a way, Iâ€™m creating my own city here (in the museum gallery).â€
Standart says he very intentionally photographed people as he found them on the street in 2006 and then whisked them off to the Garde Arts Center, which had provided a room for him to use as a studio.
â€œThey werenâ€™t made up, they couldnâ€™t leave and change their clothes,â€ he says, â€œSo whatever they were carrying or eating, if their hats were askew, is exactly how I photographed them. That was very purposeful in terms of capturing the styles and the mores of the times.â€
Paul Lapides is a banker who is very involved with the community. He is with his wife Sylvia and their daughter, Anneliesse in 2006, left, and in 2016. (Joe Standart)
â€œQuite often, the photographs I ended up using were amongst the first two or three or four that I took,â€ Standart continues, â€œand only once in awhile I would take more than 5 or 10 minutes with a subject, so itâ€™s just instant response, reaction, and capture. If I took a long time, they may have started thinking, â€˜This is weird, what am I doing here? I feel a little uncomfortable now.â€™â€
â€œItâ€™s nice that theyâ€™re not staged,â€ says Jane LeGrow, director of exhibitions at the Lyman Allyn. â€œTo sort of pluck people off the street and get them right at the moment when theyâ€™re least self-conscious is terrific.â€
Using Facebook, Yellow Pages and word of mouth, Standart was able to locate about 35 percent of the original group. He found many more than that, but they were no longer living in New London.
To his amazement, almost everyone agreed to being re-photographed.
â€œWhen you look at the photographs, many of them came back in the same clothes they wore 10 years ago,â€ he points out. â€œI didnâ€™t tell them to. It was a total surprise.â€
Standart had stored the original black background and used it again the second time around at his studio in a storefront on Bank Street.
â€œThis was very purposeful,â€ he says. â€œI wanted the viewer to see the person, not the environment, and focus on, as I like to say, their individual dignity.â€
Standart also interviewed and videotaped all of his subjects, but instead of running the film during the show, he made an audio track that will play in the gallery, so itâ€™s â€œlike walking into a cocktail party,â€ he says.
Standart learned a lot about local residents by doing this project, including how passionate they are about New London, and how much they love living in the city.
He was pleasantly surprised to find that some of his subjects are very different than he had imagined they would be.
â€œI came across this gentleman, who was a biker, during Sailfest. He was so scary looking and had a very serious expression. But I went up to him anyway and told him what I was doing and asked him if heâ€™d help me out. He said, â€˜Sure.â€™ It turned out that he was the nicest guy, a school custodian, he loves kids. It was a â€˜You canâ€™t judge a book by the coverâ€™ kind of thing.â€
He also photographed a young woman with body piercings and tattoos.
â€œWhat strikes me about the tats and all is it seems to scare people away and is kind of off-putting,â€ Standart says. â€œAnd part of what I have to do as a photographer in this project is overcome that distance or that divide and take, if you will, a risk to open myself up to these individuals that look (different). And Iâ€™m finding often â€” without exception â€” that theyâ€™re just lovely, warm human beings.â€
LeGrow says what she likes most about the exhibit is â€œItâ€™s about the face of the city, the city itself and the sort of snapshot it creates â€” this historical moment we can look back on. People will be looking back on it in 100 years and be able to see exactly the composition of the city.
â€œMy background is in archeology and in museums, so I tend to think 100 years out,â€ she says, â€œand I think this is a prime example of the kind of stuff we should be saving.â€
Standart has several other destinations in the local region (that heâ€™s not ready to reveal) in the works for Portraits of America and plans to begin photographing next spring. Heâ€™s also in talks with other U.S. cities like Detroit.