Pittsburgh photographer’s ‘We Are All Related’ images celebrate unity
The eyes can be haunting and appear to stare back.
One can feel their presence when surrounded by the towering portraits.
Their faces represent a diverse group of people showcased in “We Are All Related,” a multimedia exhibit by Pittsburgh-based photographer Andrea London that celebrates the commonalities of residents in the region.
Her show runs through May 12 at Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s 937 Gallery in Downtown Pittsburgh. A sister exhibit is displayed in a vacant building at Penn and Centre Avenues in East Liberty.
Both are free.
A common thread
London took the portraits in her Shadyside studio.
Her subjects are people who come from different backgrounds, speak multiple languages and wear various clothing.
London’s mission was to to shed positive light with the images.
“We are not all the same, but we are all related, connected,” London told the Tribune-Review, as she stood in the middle of the gallery. “I did it, because I couldn’t not do it. I had to give people an opportunity to see this.”
London says the installation is her “passionate attempt to counter the ugly rhetoric of separation and racism exploding all around us.”
From her Shadyside studio she reached out to immigrant and refugee communities, the LGBTQ community, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists and to people who have been held in internment and concentration camps.
She invited them to tell their story and in some cases went back to people she had photographed decades ago and invited them to take part.
She compiled a book of the portraits and their compelling words which contains the title, “We Are All Related” written in 18 languages.
The idea was formed
In the book, London shares a memory of when she was a child and her best friend Christine invited her to church. London, who is Jewish, declined.
“So Christine announced that she could no longer be my friend and that she would never speak to me again,” London wrote. “Her words stung my little-girl heart, and I can feel them to this day. That moment was the end of our friendship, and, in many ways, the beginning of this story.”
London said she decided to bring forward her portraits of both the marginalized and the mainstream to show the interconnections among people she observes every day.
Stories from the book
Hadeel and Shadia, of Palestine, tell of their strong mother-daughter bond.
“While Palestine is far, we’ve learned from one another that home is an embrace, a phone call away,” wrote Hadeel.
Kade, who identified as gender fluid, wrote, “Beneath the negative thoughts I created for myself from others’ perspectives, I found something I thought I had lost. I rediscovered the child that I once was. That child was trans.”
Sanjib of Nepal, and his wife Kalpana, talked about dreaming about life in the U.S. and becoming the parents of twin girls.
Sean and his daughter Jewel are African American. He said he knows he can’t shelter her from everything.
“We build up barriers because of things that have happened to us, and because we have those barriers, we block those blessings,” he said in the book. “If you just move out of the way, your blessings will find you.”
All subjects were photographed in black-and-white.
London’s studio is where the magic happens, said Murray Horne, curator of visual arts for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. He said because it’s a small space in Shadyside, she is able to place a lens close to the subject’s face.
“She can get very close and not have a person feel intimidated,” said Horne. “Her portraits are very intimate and personal. She hung the photos in a way that when you first walk in you stand back and look at the larger pieces and then you approach the smaller pieces on instinct. That is the sign of a good show.”
Who is she?
London, a Mt. Lebanon native, lives in Point Breeze. She started her photography business at 40, after a career in advertising. She said she has always loved photos, especially black and white images. She is self-taught and shoots with a Nikon camera.
London only shoots film. How does she know she got the shot?
“I just feel it,” she said. “Part of getting the right photo is creating a relationship with the subject. There are always some surprises.”
She wanted to make some of the photos large.
“I wanted the wow factor,” she said. “I wanted them to be larger than life so they could make an impact. I love it when the people in the exhibit come and see themselves. It’s been an extraordinary experience. I carry each one of them with me.”
The 937 Gallery is located at 937 Liberty Ave., Downtown Pittsburgh
Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
The exhibit will be part of the Gallery Crawl on April 26 from 6 to 10 p.m. and a panel discussion from 7 to 9 p.m. April 27
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 412-320-7889, [email protected] or via Twitter .