There has been a wealth of positive change in our Creative Capital in the past few decades, from the inception of WaterFire to the formation of the I-Way. Also, major developments have been made to the historic buildings downtown, as neglected spaces underwent much-needed facelifts. Never has Providence looked so beautiful and well loved. “The Providence Portrait Project was an idea that occurred to me about a decade ago when I realized that in addition to revitalizing the buildings downtown, the people that were involved in that process were as important as the actual physical work we were doing,” says property developer Buff Chace. In an attempt to honor that deserving lot, Chace got to work on transforming his idea into something tangible.
He first shared his vision with several photographers, none of whom seemed all that excited to participate. “Strangely enough, a friend of mine whom I’d known for a number of years had become a photographer in his later career,” Chace explains. After telling this friend about his idea on several occasions, one day he turned to Chace and said, “I’d like to do that.” With that statement, Jim Hooper had signed on to the project. The duo began planning and decided to convert an empty Peerless Building loft space into a photo studio, relocating all of Hooper’s equipment there from Dedham, Massachusetts. And so Studio 604 was born.
Over a six-month period in early 2012, a total of 122 locals stepped through the door of unit 604 to smile for Hooper’s camera. Each and every one played some part in reshaping the hub of our city: politicians, bankers, engineers, architects, chefs, business owners, building owners, artists, bartenders and students alike. On the faces of the chosen there were smirks, wide smiles, open-mouthed laughs and everything in between. Some acted out their passions (storyteller Len Cabral stood wide-eyed and vibrant, arms outstretched) while others chose to utilize props (Modern Love owner and clothing designer Karen Beebe held spools of thread and a pair of scissors). The one constant was the light in each of their eyes; you could tell they knew they were a part of something very special.
Artistically, Chace and Hooper chose to shoot their subjects in three different lighting setups, figuring that while each individual may not look their best in all, they’d be sure to look great in at least one. The first set featured the classic two light “clam-shell” setup you would envision when picturing a glamour shot. Set two was a simple one light setup that – when Hooper stood with his back to the light and the subject stood flush against the backdrop wall – cast a soft halo-like shadow. The final set utilized a telephoto lens and a tripod, positioned about 40 feet in front of the subject. Reminiscent of a magic trick, the camera seemed to go off by itself, as Hooper controlled it remotely.
In the end, Chace was a bit surprised at the magnitude of the project, as his idea grew into something larger than he had ever imagined. “People who didn’t know each other well or hadn’t really understood what the other people were doing kind of came together around this project,” he says. “It was awakening this city to the rebuilding of its heart, of its center.” He hopes that the forward momentum will continue, and plans to capture those in the forefront of the action in a similar vein ten or so years from now.
The portraits are on display through January 6 in the Atrium of the Peerless Building downtown. Brian Tetrault produced a wonderful video that details the process in its entirety and is worth a watch if you can’t make it down to see the exhibit in person. You can watch the video and purchase books of the portraits online.
Free. Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm. 150 Union Street.