FACES OF READING
APORTRAIT PROJECT BY JOHN PANKRATZ
Severalmillion years of evolution have gradually contrived to make the human face the most interesting thing on earth, at leastto other humans. It’s the part of ouranatomy that we use most often and earnestly to convey who we are to our fellowcreatures, and it’s the aspect of other persons that we first look to to readwhat’s going on their minds, to know whether they’re friends or foes, to guesswhat they might mean to us. All of ourancestors were fascinated by faces; the odd creature who wasn’t simply didn’tsurvive.
Thus, in undertaking to photographhundreds of faces in Reading, Pennsylvania and then to exhibitthose faces, a good part of my work was done before I began. I could safely assume that persons everywherewould have interesting faces and that persons everywhere would find facesinteresting. Why then focus thisuniversal fascination upon faces in Reading? Why not, as my wife unkiddingly suggested,portray the faces of New York or, better still, the faces of Paris? At the time that the “Faces of” notionoccurred to me – early last June – two of the giants of photography, RichardAvedon and Henri Cartier-Bresson, still had those particular venues vividly inhand. (Since then, alas, they both have left the studio, so to speak.) By contrast, Reading recommended itself as a community offaces that had been relatively overlooked or, in some sense, avoided.
A part of that avoidance isstructural. The patterns of post-WWIIhighway construction have made Readingdifficult to reach from the rest of the world (what is the opposite of acrossroads?), while the slow secession called suburbanization has made it easier to live anyplace but. Many of the manufacturing industries thatwere once the city’s heart have likewise retreated. And most of the people whohave stayed or come – the elderly, the poor, the immigrants, the brave – havedone so because they had fewer opportunities to avoid Reading. Poverty and pluralism can lead to their own forms of avoidance, and muchof the time folks in Readinggo around too shy or too wary to show their faces or to look each other in theface.
Butphotography isn’t about “much of the time.” Instead, it takes a unique moment – a fraction of a second – and givesthe visible part of it a lease on eternity. The 600 images on display here are the fruits of just such fleetingmoments. Photography has fixed thesefaces, given them a permanence that enables and invites our contemplation. Photography encourages us to look each otherin the face.
Universal or Particular?
But are these in fact faces of Reading? The simple answer is “yes,” all of thesitters who presented themselves at my temporary downtown studios live and/orwork in Reading. And most Readingresidents will recognize dozens of familiar faces on the walls of the Albright Community Cultural Center. Some of the sitters brought along the toolsof their trades as emblems of their contributions to the community. But not everyone supplied such clues to theiridentity, and the studio setting that I utilized – a plain background, a simplelighting set-up – eliminated the kind of contextual information that an“environmental” portrait might have supplied. In most instances, we’re left with some items of apparel or jewelry, thefaces and their expressions. Viewerswill be tempted to read into these atti
© Faces of Reading by John Robert Pankratz