Sharon Rodriguez is a photographer. She uses her photographs as a means to convey a message. For Rodriguez, “[E]ach photograph has a story to tell. I tell what I see and invite the viewer to look at the work and tell the story they see.” In her latest project “Shining the Light on Homeless in Johnson County”, Rodriguez captures the faces and actions of the homeless population currently residing in one of the wealthiest counties in the United States. Through a series of black and white photographs and accompanying handwritten notes of her encounters with each subject, Rodriguez sheds light on the overlooked population that is quite visible in the overall, affluent community. Referencing the documentary style employed by WPA photographers Dorothea Lange and Gordon Parks, Rodriguez captures the ongoing struggle of this growing population and provides a voice to their silenced stories. To understand Rodriguez's practice more, we asked her a series of questions before the exhibition. The following are her replies:
What comes first – the medium or the message? Tell me a little about the work that will be on view.
In my work the Photograph is used to convey the message. Each photograph has a story to tell. I tell what I see and invite the viewer to look at the work and tell the story they see. Everything has a story to tell. My work is to give that story a visual representation. We often are too busy to think about the stories that are around us. Sometimes we are too embarrassed and don't know what to do to start the conversation to hear the stories of other people. Or we are too wrapped up in our own lives to notice others. This body of work gives a face to the Homeless that are invisible to most people. Some want to stay invisible others are ignored because they look a certain way.
What do you feel is your role as an artist?
My role as an artist for this project is to show these gentlemen with dignity. They are human beings that are in the life style that they are in for reasons we can't understand. At least I can't always understand it from my world. I have learned to confront the hard stuff in my life. This project helped me see a side of life I have ignored for too long. To tell their story through a photograph as best as I can. Each participant deserves to tell their story.
What influences your practice/works?
Showing the other side of out affluent world. I usually like to work in color. This project had to be done in Black and White. This came to my mind when I saw pictures of the homeless and destitute of the great depression. We in Johnson County at one time had a Poor peoples farm and instead of people becoming invisible. They were taken to this farm. The farm was self sustaining. What happened to that farm? My mother talks about living with another family during the depression in a four room house. People use to help each other in hard times. What happened?
Who are the other artists you look to for inspiration?
David Chancellor has tackled the hard job of showing the death of beautiful animals. Tom Corbin is a local sculpture and participated in my book Rebels, Legends, and Icons an Inspirational Generation. He encourages artist to try new things and learn not fail. There is never failure in learning. He encouraged me to do the book and I continue to stretch myself with each new project. Craig Sands, my digital photography teacher from Johnson County Community College. He gave me encouragement and pushed me to do things I did not think I could do. Mary Ellen Mark, her portraits of people tell a side of our society that is not pretty but real.
What other writings do you recommend reading to have a better understanding of your artworks and your art practice/process?
Finding Grace: The Face of America's Homeless
Seen Behind the Scene: Forty Years of Photographing on Set
Homeless in America: How Could It Happen Here?
For more information on the artist, visit www.stressreliefmeditation.net