PORTRAIT 2000 AT FIFTEEN
In a couple of weeks, fifteen Januarys will have come and gone since the unveiling of the Portrait 2000 millennium project.
Expo Hall is now full of the interior sets of the witchy television show, Salem, and has been renamed Louisiana Stageworks. On January 8, 2000, the cavernous building held for display 2,000 portraits of individuals representing the population of Shreveport and Bossier City. The concept was to create a collective portrait of the community using 2,000 separate portraits from all walks of life.
Did it work? It felt like it did. But I was a bit biased after three years of collecting (with a priceless team of volunteers) the portraits from all corners of the two cities—from libraries, the middle of two Walmart stores, Barksdale Air Force Base, a hospital neo-natal ward, Harrah’s Casino, a fire house, two malls, schools, the GM factory, and a dozen other places, including the Caddo Jail. You could say I was consumed by the project. Whether it “worked” or not, I would not give up the experience for anything.
I like conceptual art and Portrait 2000 was definitely that. Before the project and more so these fifteen years after, I feel strongly connected to this community. Inseparable now. I felt deep gratitude for each and every person who agreed to take part in the concept. I still feel the gratitude. And I feel pain when I notice a participant in the obits. I feel the passage of time.
For one day—one amazing cold rainy beautiful wintry January day in the year 2000—all 2,000 mounted prints hung together in one location. I wish it could have been longer, but I could not complain as the City Council had “given” me, at no charge, Expo Hall for two days, one to hang and one to exhibit. Afterward, the collection of prints was distributed to nine separate exhibit venues, mostly art galleries, for an extended display run.
I certainly wish I could have created the project digitally. It would have made the organizing and printing vastly easier. But even though the timing did not cooperate, it actually is good that the project was created with a Hasselblad analog camera using film.
If you are one of the participants or had a friend or family take part, know that it still exists. It is safe within the confines of the Archives at the LSUS Noel Memorial Library. The negatives are well-processed silver-based black and white film and filed in archival sleeves in archival binders. In this case negatives are positive. They are physical. No hardware failure or digital virus threaten them. The records identifying the subjects are stored with the negatives.
The Portrait 2000 negatives will probably last longer than the prints and be patiently waiting for the day when, maybe 85 years from now, a person gets it in his or her head that it might be worth the effort to pull out the project, scan the negatives, and make new prints, and exhibit the project once more.
It’s a frigid January of the year 2100 and the exhibit is born again. All the subjects have passed on into history. Their descendants, people in strange fashions will view the images and say the 1999 fashions that we were so proud to have been photographed in sure were strange. The heads of the exhibit patrons will have embedded some kind of computer system that will have made cell phones as obsolete as the telegraph. They will talk of wars past that actually used bullets and missiles and not cyber disruption events that bring sections of the world to a standstill until peace again breaks out.
Someone will point to a sweet teenage subject in the exhibit and say, “That was my grandmother. She spent time reading newspapers and books with paper pages made from trees. She sure was quaint!”
Aren’t we quaint? Sure we are—as time goes by.