During the summer of 2020, at the peak of the racial reckoning across the United States, I photographed a protest in my town after the murder of George Floyd and other unarmed Black people by police. At that protest I met Maude and her five-year-old boy, who was the same age as my son. I couldn’t escape the significance that her Black son was leading protesters in chants as we marched down the street, while my white son watched quietly by my side.
Shortly after that protest Maude’s family found someone had written the N-word on their car in front of their Petaluma home.
Heartbroken by that news, I reached out to Maude and asked her if I could photograph her family, as a gift to honor their love and humanity. She accepted my offer and we scheduled our photo shoot. When I arrived, her son raced to greet me and gave me the first non-family hug I had received in three months since Covid lockdown. That hug dissolved my heart.
After that photo shoot I reached out to a couple of other Black and biracial families in my community and offered family portraits. I was unsure of what, if anything, I would do with the photos, but I felt compelled to do something and this is what I could do.
Three months later, as I was speaking with Faith Ross, the president of Petaluma Blacks for Community Development, I learned that the national theme for Black History month in 2021 was going to be Celebrating Family. I told Faith I had started this portrait project and would love to contribute portraits for her annual Black History exhibit. She was excited about the idea but told me she wanted to include all families, not just Black families, because PBCD has always been open to all families since they started in 1978. And because the Petaluma History Museum, the home of the annual Black History month exhibit, was likely going to be closed due to Covid, we needed to find another way to display the photos. Faith suggested we use the vacant buildings downtown, while I wondered why not all the businesses downtown. With our plan in place, now we just needed more families.
Knowing I wanted to reach as many families as possible, but unsure how to photograph multiple families efficiently and safely, especially during a pandemic, I reached out to Kinyatta, an inspiring community leader and activist, for advice. She gave me the good idea of picking a date and location and allowing families to sign up for photo shoot slots, while also asking them for quotes about what family means to them. That plan worked perfectly until the stay-at-home order was put in place. But with permission from the health department and with very careful Covid restrictions established, the photo shoots continued.
After days and days of scheduling, emailing, and texting families, I held six all-day photo shoots, with the help of generous volunteers, who graciously gave up their weekends to stand in the cold parking lot with me at the wonderful Maria Do Ceu’s Outwest Garage.
And after several editing all-nighters, and multiple calls and trips to Bill, the patient printer at The Digital Grange, and after very careful planning of which portraits should go where and at what size, with the museum problem solving master Heather Fordham, only to have to ditch that plan and start over many more times during the week of hanging enormous paper prints in the rain with Molly Best, my superhero business outreach manager, and her talented installation expert husband, Danial Moorehouse, and the friends, who answered my last minute desperate call for more installers, the Celebrating Family exhibit is finally up in over 46 businesses in downtown Petaluma for the month of February.
To see the Celebrating Family exhibit grab a map and scavenger hunt form at Copperfields or the Petaluma Vistor Center and head downtown Petaluma. Share your thoughts about the exhibit and your favorite photos on social media with #celebratingfamilypetaluma
Thank you to…
• Faith Ross and Gloria Robinson for all you have done in this community for 43 years. You are an inspiration.
• The uber talented Christine Walker at The Design Guild, who jumped in and took on the whole design process, creating a beautiful logo, map, scavenger hunt, posters and website with enthusiasm.
• Keller Street Co-Work for being the perfect lifesaving basecamp for our print distribution.
• The City of Petaluma for believing in and sponsoring this project.
• All the businesses who generously allowed us to fill their valuable window space for this exhibit.
• All the community members who donated, showed up, offered their time, talents and words of encouragement.
• My family, my reason for being.
And finally, a HUGE thank you to all the families who trusted me, during a pandemic, to take their portrait and share their family stories.
My motivation for this project was to build relationships and strengthen community. And my hope is that together we heal, together we close the divide, together we celebrate differences and together we make Petaluma a safe, welcoming place for ALL families to live and thrive.
If you like this project and would like to support this and future projects to strengthen Petaluma, please join Petaluma Blacks for Community Development and TIDE, Team for Inclusivity, Diversity and Equity.