For four years I photographed everyday life in the dozen neighborhoods along Lake Street in Minneapolis, a six-mile major thoroughfare that connects trendy enclaves, economically depressed pockets, and stretches that are as culturally diverse as anywhere in America. Lake Wobegon seems but a memory. To do this project from the perspective of a resident, I moved into one of the low-rent areas. Seldom did I leave my one-bedroom without my Minolta X-700 SLR, eventually photographing thousands of citizens on the street and in stores, at worship and play, in their backyards and bedrooms.
In spring 2000 with volunteers we approached 300 businesses along Lake Street asking to exhibit the photographs in their windows. Half the businesses said no. All of the business owners on the wealthiest end refused. It took us a month to install 675 photographs ranging in size from 8x10 inches to 8x12 feet in windows, bus stops, sides of busses and the on the side of the former Sears building, then the biggest boarded up building in Minneapolis but now the Midtown Global Market.
This six-mile photo exhibition, possibly the largest of it’s kind, reflected a dizzying collision of socio-economic and cultural realities. Accompanying many of the photos were the words of the people in the pictures talking about their lives and neighborhood, excerpted from hundreds of interviews that I conducted. There was no signage about what this public installation was about. It was up to anyone passing by to decide for them selves why this was here.
I remember one person who thought it was a memorial service for all the people who died on Lake Street. Another person thought it was a memorial for the photographer who had died. I overheard two teenagers who were convinced it was a “Nike thing.” In a comment book placed at a Lake Street coffeehouse, an anonymous person wrote:
‘Where art is not afraid to look into the eyes of us, regular poor folks just living our lives, this art comes down from the pretentious, self-conscious and exclusive upper-class realm and becomes community art, art with a purpose, humane. These are the pictures you’ll never see in Nike ads or car ads or perfume ads. These are the majority of Americans picking up their broken identities and trying to scrape together a living, a culture, and identity, a life. Most of the images we see are of advertisements, trying to sell us a euphoria and prestige we could never achieve. We look around us and are disappointed; we struggle but don’t measure up. These photos show us, real and valuable just as we are. They are sad because they aren’t the perfect images of others we’re used to seeing. They are empowering for the same reason. Thanks, for these images and a chance to respond. Peace."