Who, exactly, is Petaluma?
Who lives here in this place at this specific moment in time and history?
Five local photographers — Paige Green, Michael Garlington, Jude Mooney, Ramin Rahimian and Michael Woolsey — have spent the last nine months looking for answers to those questions. The result of their inquiry will soon be on display at the Petaluma Arts Center’s newest exhibit, Face of Petaluma: Portraits of Our Town.
The show, running June 13 through Aug. 5, with an opening reception on June 10 at 5 p.m, is curated by Mooney and Stefan Kirkeby, owner of the San Anselmo-based gallery, Smith Anderson North (and a partner in the Casemore Kirkeby Gallery in San Francisco).
“The idea or seed was born a few years ago when a group of local photographers talked about the idea of capturing Petaluma as it is now, before the old mom and pop businesses disappear,” explains Mooney. “We are seeing this rapid growth and change in the Bay Area over the last few years. We want to document where we are in this moment.”
The catalyst for making the show a reality was Paula Freund, the curator of a sister show at the Petaluma Historical Library and Museum — “The Portraits of Petaluma Pioneers” (see sidebar). Having been immersed in the visual record of old Petaluma, Freund was inspired to invite Mooney to design a show that depicted a contemporary vision of Petaluma.
“Face of Petaluma,’” says Kim Chigi, Exhibitions Manager at PAC, “is an alluring journey of photographic portraits which explore the character, vitality, and diversity of contemporary Petaluma, while simultaneously preserving a deep-rooted admiration for the town’s history and cultural significance.”
The five participating photographers each went into different Petaluma communities, and the photographs that will be on display vividly reflect those communities.
“We documented Petaluma in our own unique style,” says Mooney.
Paige Green, a documentary photographer, says her hope for the show is that every population of people living in Petaluma can come to see the exhibition and feel represented.
“In starting this project,” she says, “I made a list of all the different categories of people who live in Petaluma and I went on a search to find those people. One of the first places I started was St. Vincent Church, because they are in the center of Petaluma, and they serve both the Caucasian and Latino populations of our town. Each time I interviewed a person, I would ask them who they felt should be included in this project. My hope was to find people who are not normally in the spotlight, and celebrate folks who do not normally get a chance to tell their story.”
When Green met with Abraham Solar at St. Vincent’s, he told her about Ballet Folklorico and the indigenous dress mass. That’s where she met Guadalupe, the woman whose face now appears on much of the promotional material for the show.
“It was important for me to take portraits that tell the story of Petaluma, as well as the person I was photographing,” Green says. “So I conducted an interview with each person before taking their portrait. We would discuss how they wanted to be represented. Face of Petaluma was a great way to help me start my long-term goal of telling the story of this community I am so grateful to be a part of.”
Portraits of Petaluma Pioneers
On June 10th, a shuttlebus will drive visitors from the Face of Petaluma reception across town and back in time to see an older and long gone Petaluma also on display. The Portraits of Petaluma Pioneers: Personal Images and Public Stories of a California Rivertown exhibit (petalumapioneers.org.P, at the Petaluma Historical Library and Museum, opens a window into the faces of the past. Paula Freund, the curator of the show and an art historian, mined archives in Petaluma and across the county, looking for the photos and stories of the people who lived here at the moment when Petaluma coalesced into the town that it is today.
“There was a craze in the mid-1800s to have portraits taken, exactly when Petaluma as developing,” says Freund. “So we have their demeanor, their faces, their jewelry and their hairstyles.”
The exhibit runs from June 10-September 25, 2017, and a variety of free lectures and events are scheduled. Information at Petalumamuseum.com