In the city

By GREG COOK  |  April 23, 2013

A CANDID CONVERSATION Lapham's 'Express Gas.'

In Scott Lapham's Walking Distance series, AS220's youth photo program coordinator works to build personal connections with the people and places within a walk of his West End home.

Here are mothers holding baby daughters on their laps, a man standing in front of a giant American flag, and a young couple embracing outside City Hall. In one photo, a traffic sign warning drivers to slow down for children has been bent over and graffitied. Behind it stands a Liberian church, painted creamy yellow and violet, a plain cross decorating the door. You can feel the tension between people trying to build a community and more anarchic impulses.

"I'm looking at this as a kind of 10-year project," Lapham says. "I'm looking to establish relationships with people when I can. I'm looking for certain architectural anchor photos to see how the neighborhood changes for bad and for good."

He adds, "It's not just a documentation of poverty, even though that's there. It's not a documentation of gentrification, even though that's there. It's hopefully a documentation of the gray areas and a lot of cultures living close to one another."

BUILDING A CONNECTION Lapham's 'Ida and Imani.'

The images — a mix of digital and 4x5-inch film photos — often prompt questions. Why is that woman leaning against the post at the gas station at night? Turns out that she was just passing by. "That was simply me parking my camera on a corner near my house one night and asking people if they wanted their portrait taken," Lapham says.

There's a feeling of searching as Lapham varies his approach from photo to photo. "None of these photos are candid," he says of his portraits. "They're all sessions where there's a conversation back and forth." In the architectural photos, he sometimes uses a tilt-shift effect so that spots appear in crisp focus while the rest of the scene is blurry. It's a way to draw your eye to the ragged old tree trunk in the foreground and a Queen Anne-style house with a turret in the background.

That house appears in a couple photos. Lapham describes it as "a behemoth that's always trying to keep up with decay. It's kind of a hint of the wealth of the neighborhood historically, but the challenge of a neighborhood that doesn't have that kind of wealth now."

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  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Providence, Neal Walsh, AS220,  More more >
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