ITHACA, N.Y. — Through more than 1,200 portraits, local project “We Are Ithaca” has captured a snapshot of Ithaca’s rich community. The photographs and videos that have resulted from the project give a small window into the lives of hundreds of Ithaca residents.
“We wanted to celebrate the town, the community, the citizens through portraits,” Robyn Wishna, project director and photographer, said. “It’s sort of an egalitarian photo project because nobody is more important than another and everybody’s going to be seen — this is a bad pun — but in the same light.”
It’s easy to get lost in the hundreds of portraits that were taken. About half the people photographed stood as they were, but others brought along items that represent a bit of who they are. They held items like instruments, pictures of loved ones, sports gear, art, plants, books, and all sorts of interesting items, even chickens.
The full-length photographs were set up simply with bright light and a white background, letting the personalities being captured in that moment shine through.
The average portrait session took a couple minutes at most. The only direction people got for the photo was where to stand.
“I didn’t direct people. I didn’t tell people how to stand or what to do or to smile,” Wishna said. “I just let them be how they wanted to be.”
After the photograph, people were invited to share something on video if they wanted and about a quarter to a third of the participants did so. Wishna said she didn’t have an initial plan for the videos, but said it was an opportunity to have all of these people on record expressing themselves. Some talked about their lives, others shared poetry or songs.
“The other piece of the project is it being a snapshot of Ithaca at this point in time,” Wishna said.
The videos are uploaded to the project website and will also be part of an installation at the History Center.
The project, “We Are Ithaca: A Celebration in Portraits” officially got started in September 2017. Over the course of a few months, there were 28 pop-up portrait sessions held in locations around Ithaca that were easily accessible. Now, the photos are visible online, in a banner on the Ithaca Commons, in a book and documentary, and were featured in a gallery at the Community School of Music and Arts.
The project will also be celebrated at an event Thursday on the Commons. (Details below.)
Wishna said it was truly a community portrait project, with a core team of about a dozen people. Behind the scenes at each photo session, there were four to six people helping with set up and organization. Beyond the photo sessions, the team behind the project has helped create a book, documentary, plan events and hang banners.
The tagline of the project is “to celebrate our uniqueness and diversity through portraits and stories.” If people take anything from the project, Wishna said she would like people to see how alike everyone is.
“We are a lot more alike than we know,” Wishna said. “I really wish, especially in America right now, that we could all recognize that and be a lot kinder to one another.”
The project will also be celebrated Thursday on the Ithaca Commons during the CFCU Summer Concert Series with a performance by Fall Creek Brass Band. The first 50 people at the event will receive a free We Are Ithaca poster featuring all of the portraits. For more information, visit the Facebook event page.
The “We Are Ithaca” documentary directed by local filmmaker Becky Lane will be featured later in August.
Every portrait taken is now available in book format and every portrait is published in it. The book is available here online or at Ithacamade in the Dewitt Mall. Learn more about the project at the website, weareithaca.org.
Featured image: Passersby walk past the We Are Ithaca banner on the Ithaca Commons on Monday. (Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)