I'm happy to have done the photography for the Cleveland story written by esteemed author Charles Michener in the April issue of Smithsonian Magazine. Thanks to the mag for the call on this one, for leading with one of my favorite images from the shoot, and for some beautiful reproduction quality in the print edition.
Although I'm personally not as quick to paint a rosy picture about Cleveland as others might be, I do think that Michener's piece touches on some important positive things going on right now: Gordon Square Arts District (one of my favorite parts of the city), the development along E. 4th St. downtown (love it or hate it depending on your sensibilities or income bracket, but its good to see foot traffic in the city core after 5pm for something other than a ballgame, and the Greenhouse Tavern is worth the occasional splurge if you can do it), and the renovations at the Cleveland Museum of Art (still ongoing, but I was there as recent as mid-March and it looks pretty damn awesome so far).
I'll also add to that list the larger topic of creatives-driven revival and using previously abandoned space in new ways to engage a public that might otherwise steer clear of certain parts of the city; gigs such as Ingenuity Fest (utilizing the former subway lines on the underside of the Detroit-Superior Bridge, as seen in my photos for the magazine), Pecha Kucha nite, and pop-up galleries in Collinwood all come to mind.
Here's a few outtakes from the assignment (which included portraiture of Michener in addition to a laundry list of locations around town).
In my mind, these important nuances are a telling example of the complexities of depicting a place through photographs -- its furthermore interesting to consider the experience of photographing one's own city compared to how its documented and portrayed by outside photographers. The images made in Cleveland by Anthony Suau come to mind immediately, and I've had many people ask for my thoughts on Suau's interpretation (many questions coming from people elsewhere in the Rust Belt who have experienced similarly drab depictions of their cities).
later visits to the city, his photographs turn a bit more towards hopeful signs of life and rebound here.
So by comparison, does this mean that my photographs are of the opposite motive: a pull-oneself-up-by-the-bootstraps tableau of post-industrial adaptation and reinvention?? I think its important to not read too much further into Michener's piece than basically it being a telling of Cleveland through his personal experiences and perspective. I don't mean to imply that he is misleading whatsoever -- but instead to say that for those still smarting from previous media reports that have dragged the city through the mud, its convenient to want to see Michener's article as setting everything back in its proper place (emotionally or otherwise).
Long story short, I'm happy with some of these images I created for the magazine, and happy to contribute to an editorial piece that may provide a temporary feel-good for the audience that seeks it (current or former Clevelanders, or whoever else). And I appreciate Michener for not sliding too far off into the realm of blind optimism.
But I can't stress enough that pictures and words such as these should not be taken as a declaration that everything in this city is all rainbows and puppies, or further that an "I love Cleveland (even though I only ever go into the city itself for sporting events and complain about the potholes and the parking)"-type of absentee boosterism is an acceptable form of civic engagement.
I know we're all ready and hoping to celebrate crawling out of the "Great Recession", and ultimately this article serves a positive purpose by helping to temporarily inject a sense of confidence in a city I've long felt was lacking in that category (we do love our self-deprecating humor, after all). However, in context this article should be heralded for exactly what it is: one small chapter in the very long and very complex novel of this city.