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.”
Newspaper photographer Ramin Rahimian took a radically different approach.
“I chose to do my portraits in a spontaneous manner,” he says. “I had an idea to drive around Petaluma, and whenever someone caught my eye - what they were wearing or doing - I pulled over and told them about the exhibit, and asked if they could be photographed in the space that I saw them. For one photo, I saw a couple sitting on a bench in Penry Park. It had just rained, the light was beautiful. They were hanging out on the park bench, the woman had her legs draped across the man’s legs. It was an intimate moment and they were kind enough to let me photograph them.”
Clearly, the five photographers had limits on tmber of people whose face they could capture. So, to emphasize the intended sense of ‘full community’ all Petalumans are cordially invited to be have their own portraits taken, on Saturday, June 10th and June 17th from 10-4.
Those portraits will also be exhibited in the gallery.
Says Mooney, “There is a lot of diversity here, and people enjoy the quirkiness of the place. Photographing the people made me love Petaluma more. It was great to see how much other people loved it too. We hope that people come to see the exhibit and say, ‘Hey, yeah, this feels like my town.’”
Face of Petaluma runs June 13 through Aug. 5 at the Petaluma Arts Center 230 Lakeville St. Center Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 11 a.m.-5 p.m., closed Sundays and Mondays. Petalumaartscenter.org