Why do these people smile?
by Scott Lowden
1050 Ponce De Leon Place is a famous – some would say notorious – old apartment building in my neighborhood in Atlanta GA. The folks in 1050 are Section 8 which refers to the Housing Act of 1937 providing housing subsidies for low income Americans. I’ve lived here since 1992, and have seen many characters come and go from that building. I’ve also met some amazing people. One of the more surprising things I’ve noticed over the years is that many in this community are always smiling. I finally got the nerve to investigate. My idea was to get to know the people who lived at 1050 and ask them – why, with all that is against you, financially, physically – are you smiling a genuinely beautiful smile? And that was the beginning of my project.
This project focuses, in broader terms, on the happiness and contentment found in Americans that seem to have nothing to smile about. Particularly the older folks, the handicapped, and those dependent on government aid for help. At first glance, the people who live at 1050 Ponce De Leon Ave fit this description. To those more fortunate, while driving or walking by, it may seem that there is just sorrow and desperation living inside the hulking red brick apartment building. But, to every yin there is a yang. There is happiness found there, a bubbling up of the human spirit. Many of these amazing older folks are fighting battles with poverty or illness, yet they are truly happy individuals. They always seem to be smiling, and helping each other. To me this is a powerful project to catch on film because in their happiness we find ours. Smiles are contagious, and these people are wonderful. I’ve seen these folks impacting our neighborhood with their personalities, grins, and hugs since I moved to Poncey Highlands.
While this project would seem to dictate a truly photojournalistic approach, I come to photography from an advertising background, where creating the scene as imagined is more important than truly documenting it. In my advertising work I lean toward capturing what exists but skewing it better, happier, snappier. In my fine art work I push documentary photography towards something a little more affected…in the direction I want the viewer to go. With that in mind I use available light, but supplement it with additional lighting. I use a photojournalist’s camera, but shift the color and values to create the message I want the viewer to take away. I document the entire scene, but edit the images towards the message I’m trying to communicate. While it would be dramatic to document their pain and bad days, I’m choosing to illustrate their happiness, their gratitude and their brilliant smiles.
~ Scott Lowden