The Portraits at Sam's Market
I made these portraits at Sam's Market, a convenience store in the small desert town of Joshua Tree, California during 1997. My methodology was entirely inclusive. Nearly every Saturday afternoon during the year, I taped up a white seamless backdrop near the store's entrance, and then asked all who passed by if I could make a portrait of them (the owner had given me permission to do this). Perhaps one in 10 agreed to participate. My intent was to make a snapshot of the community and also demonstrate that people anwhere can stand for people everywhere. After collecting about 150 portraits, I chose 49 for an exhibit at the Park Center Gallery in Joshua Tree in April and May of 1998.
The show was controversial. After some local pre-opening press that included 4 portraits from the show, some merchants, wealthy landowners, and even the Chamber of Commerce pressured the gallery owners to cancel the exhibition, as they believed it would project the wrong image for the town, hurt business, and even depress property values. In spite of their pressure -- and a personal threat against me -- the show went ahead on schedule. All of the subjects were residents of Joshua Tree or neighboring towns, and many who attended the opening were proud to be part of it. As far as I know, no harm came to the town, its inhabitants, or property values. In fact, a real estate boom followed (from 1999 to 2006).