Every year. my street holds a July 4th block party. A couple of weeks before the 4th this year, I purchased a really fun ring light for my photography. I decided that this year, I was going to take portraits of all the kids who came to our annual block party just for the hell of it. So at the party, at around 10pm, I went into my next door neighbor’s garage, armed with my light, a light stand, an Ikea kid’s stool, and about 10 kids. All of them were a total mess. Covered in sweat, water from water balloon fights, bbq sauce from my husband’s favorite ribs, face paint, and dirt. Perfect.
One by one, I had each kid look through the light and—click click click click. One by one, they did exactly as I instructed. “Be serious, no smiles. Ok, now you can smile or do whatever you want. Sure, eat the ribs. Yes, you can wear that red white and blue leis.” While I was photographing these kids in my neighborhood, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “God these kids are so diverse. All of them are American, but they are so much more. They all look different.”
Having traveled around a lot in my younger days, one thing I always noticed was that when I would go to a country in Europe you could pretty much tell who was Dutch in the Netherlands, who was Italian in Italy, who was Danish in Denmark and so on. But in America, there is NO WAY you can figure out what someone’s genetic heritage is just by looking at them because there is no one way to look American. We are all a mish-mash of so many things, just like these kids. These thoughts were all screaming in my brain as I photographed my neighbors. So I ran home and quickly processed them. At about 12:30am, I posted the portraits on Instagram and Facebook. When I woke up the next morning, I was bombarded with “likes” and messages from people asking me “Will you please photograph my child like this? When can you do it? How much? These photos are so haunting. I love them.”
Maybe I was on to something here. So the next day, I was hanging out with a friend of mine and was telling him about what I had done the night before and the positive response that I had woken up to in the morning. This friend is an art director for advertising, so I thought he would have some cool suggestions as what I could possibly do next. I told him about what was going through my head while I was photographing them and that there had to be some way I could get my message out just by using images . . . hmmm.
My friend said to me, “Hey did you happen to see the new PSA with John Cena for Love Has No Labels? I told him no and that I had no idea what Love Has No Labels was, but I loved the name. So he played me the PSA—and LIGHT BULB MOMENT! I literally jumped in my car, ran in the house, and Googled the exact translation for E pluribus unum, and Out of Many, 1 was born.
I started a separate Facebook page and posted the photos. A name to a face. That was all the images needed, oh and their heritage, or at least what their parents thought their children’s heritage was. So . . . child’s name and their genetic history. I could say everything by saying so little. The kid’s faces! It was their faces that said everything I wanted to, without saying anything. That we are all American! These children FEEL American. Just because someone looks this way, has this color skin or a certain shaped nose or certain hair color means nothing when you are American. You could be from anywhere and still be American. But when you really think about it, or at least when I think about it, while we are all a melting pot of many things, the only true blooded Americans, are actually Native Americans. Having them become a part of this work would be magical too. As you can see below, these girls are part Shawnee.
Two days later, I borrowed my neighbor’s garage again and extended an open invite to some friends and created an event for just two hours of shoot time. In those two hours, I photographed about 25 kids, and when I posted them to the Out of Many, 1 Facebook page, I watched my numbers climb . . . rapidly. I needed more kids. I needed more diversity. I needed to go to Philadelphia . . . NOW.
So on August 5th, I will do the same thing in Philadelphia. But in the meantime, I will photograph as many kids here in the Boston area as I can until I can as they say, “Take this show on the road.”
So far, I have done only 2 official events, both of which filled up. My session in Philadelphia booked up in 2 days. My latest session, which will be tomorrow, booked up in 15 MINUTES. Parents totally understand what I am doing. But more importantly, it’s the children that REALLY understand it. They want to be a part of this. I love to ask them where their family is from and what their heritage is because even I’m surprised. Even I assume one thing when someone is something else.
I mean, think of it this way:
“Children have a perception of the world that’s different than adults. They are not hindered by the experiences and prejudices that we gain as we grow up and are able to look past the differences that divide us. Every child, no matter what they look like or what country their ancestors came from were adopted into the American heritage when they were born. This project strives to dissolve barriers and bring us back together into the wonderful melting pot that is America. Through these portraits, I will strive to show that physical characteristics, or names, do not define us as a nation. All of these children identify as Americans.”
I am looking for children to be photographed and included in this campaign to show we are all multi-ethnic and American. If you are interested in having your child or children be a part of the #OutofMany1project, follow my Facebook Page and be on the lookout for a scheduled portrait session in your town soon. Most important will be the one in Philly in August.
And, of course, a huge thank you to the generosity of WeWork for allowing me to use their space when I am traveling.
All profit made from print sales will go directly to continuing to fund my work on this project. You can see more at the Gallery link here: http://kristinchalmersphotography.pixieset.com/outofmany1/
If you want to hear me talk more about Out of Many, 1, check out my interview on Tiffinbox.
Please feel free to share this with everyone you know. And please respect my copyright. If you share any of these images, I beg you not to change them in any way or remove the watermark. Enjoy.