During this giving season, we were honored to collaborate with a local change maker and creative. In mid-November, former Portland Creative Laureate, Julie Keefe visited us to highlight our staff. Julie, known for her Hello Neighbor Series, joined us to tell the stories of the voices of our crisis lines through her work.
Keefe’s Hello Neighbor Series involved youth in Northeast Portland–interviewing older adults in the community on how their neighborhoods have changed. The photos remind us of the history of the area, and tell a story of Portland from the people who’ve watched it evolve. She has the uncanny ability to not only capture the pictures of individuals, but also to allow them an open space to tell their stories.
During her time with our call staff, she hoped to showcase the talent, bravery and skill of the individuals who save lives every day. While other photographers took pictures of crisis lines staff in the past, we wanted a different, more intimate portrait of these individuals. Each person has a story and connection to the work we do, with some of our staff themselves being survivors of suicide. Our goal with the project was to let Julie use her talents to bring life to their stories through the lens of her camera.
When Julie came in, we could tell right away that she was scanning the room to get a feel for the space. The crowded crisis lines room isn’t exactly an ideal space to take an intimate portrait. We settled in the Wellness Room, an area dedicated to being a space where staff can decompress from difficult calls or other related stress. It took her no time to rearrange the minimal decor to resemble a mini studio. It was incredible to see how quickly and strategically she knew to adapt a space to make it a photo-enriching setting.
She did not just have every person come in and stand up straight for a headshot. She took time to talk to each individual, hear their concerns and requests, and proceeded to map out a series of poses with the subject as the guide. She kept conversation going throughout, and gave unconditional positive commentary to each person’s unique characteristics. We could visibly see how the subjects went from uncomfortable and confused to relaxed and confident. Her abilities as both a photographer and a humanitarian.
Keefe has dedicated her career to telling the story of people’s lives in Portland, and with it, the life of Portland itself. Her work began at the boom of the arts scene in of Portland in 1984 and continues to create intersections between art and social justice. We are so grateful for her willingness to bring her talent to us.