In Kalamazoo’s Washington Square area, a happy scream emits from a car driving down Portage Street. William Pitts and a friend hurry to park by the old Color Lab building.
“I was just telling my friend that my picture should be up on the wall and stuff. And she was like, ‘For real?’” says Pitts.
Pitts is one of many Edison neighborhood residents with their portraits on the building. The photo project is called “We Are Edison.”
Anna Roeder is an AmeriCorps volunteer working for the Kalamazoo County Land Bank - the organization that spurred the project. She says it’s been fun to watch people as they pass by the wall.
“They say oh there’s my best friend or there’s my neighbor!" she says. "So it’s really neat to see that recognition and see that the folks that are walking by this or coming by this are relating to it on a personal level.”
Photographer and long-time Edison resident Fran Dwight took the photos. She snapped them at places like a senior apartment building, the Hispanic American Council, and last month’s Kalamazoo Art Hop.
The collage shows the diversity of the Edison neighborhood. There are people of different ages and races - all smiling back at you from the Color Lab wall. The project took about six months from start to finish. All together Dwight got more than a hundred people on camera - and that’s not including the family shots she took.
“We also prepared little packets of prints for each family. And when there was a family unit, I would take a quick family shot," she says. "So some of these families never had a nice photograph together.”
The Edison project is actually part of the larger, international art project called “Inside Out” - created by French street artist J.R.
"He saw the power of uniting individuals through images and through the power of juxtaposition and showcasing communities through the raw vulnerability of a face up close like that,” says Roeder.
The Land Bank hopes the local project will show the diversity of the Edison neighborhood, but also draw attention to the building itself. The Color Lab building has been vacant for about two years.
The Land Bank recently took it over and is taking proposals for what should happen to it. Roeder says some Edison residents have said they’d like to see a new restaurant or a store.
“By showcasing the community on the outside of this building we’re inviting people to consider what could happen on the inside of this building and how community might be able to unfold inside of this space in the future,” says Roeder.
Photographer Fran Dwight says, for her, this experience has been life-changing:
“Because I got to meet so many of my neighbors who I would never come in contact with, because I’m an introvert and I would never reach out to these people and ask them to let me take their photographs, and because it’s just come full circle in the neighborhood that I live in.”
You can see portraits from “We Are Edison” on the old Color Lab building on Portage Street. Even more photos of Edison residents will be on display in Washington Square for August's Kalamazoo Art Hop.