“The war of an artist with his society is a lover’s war and he does at his best what lover’s do which is to reveal the beloved to himself and with that revelation to make freedom real.” James Baldwin
When I started wheat pasting large images along the roadside in 2009 I imagined it as an opportunity to deepen my relationship with the community where I work on the rez. I often thought of this process as an experiment in building community in which I knew the medium for building community but was uncertain of the outcome. What I’ve learned along the way is the importance of trust and how the process of building community parallels nurturing a friendship.
As a documentary photographer I believe everyone has a unique story though not everyone wants their story told. But for those who do a trusting relationship established over time with the story teller is critical to an objective telling of this story. I’ve learned inadvertently that taking someone’s words and writing or painting them directly onto their face is akin to the exercise of falling backwards trusting that the person positioned behind you will really catch you and prevent you from hitting the floor. Unlike writing onto a photograph of someone’s face, spending 30 to 60 minutes sitting 18 inches away from someone you may not know well exploring the contours of their face, their lips, gently writing on their eyelids is a bonding, trust building exchange. That someone would let you do this, photograph them and create a public mural is tangible evidence of their conviction to their beliefs, to their words. As James Baldwin said, they are willing to reveal the beloved to himself and with that revelation make freedom real.
Rey Cantil painting the words of Flagstaff activists onto their faces regarding the controversial practice of using reclaimed waste water to make artificial snow on a sacred mountain.
The experiment in community building is ongoing. I continue falling backwards believing someone will be there to catch me. And while I don’t want to be known as the guy who writes on people’s face, it is an effective tool for getting a heartfelt message out. Thank you to the community for trusting me with your words and joining me in this adventure.