by drea chicas
Gun shootings in the South-end are sometimes exaggerated, and other times, they are underreported. But this kind of shooting rarely gets exposure in South Seattle. One Tuesday morning, two artists transformed one of Rainier Beach’s busiest intersection into a picturesque backdrop of urban lure, interrupting the normalcy of everyday commuters on Henderson and Renton Ave.
Gari Watkins, a local photographer re-imagined this street corner into another artists’ (me) photo-shoot dream. I enjoyed being Gari’s subject. Her photographer’s eye is elegant, intuitive and determined. The ease in which Gari photographed, made me feel beautiful. After a while of being “on location” though, I was struck by how onlookers reacted to us. Many who drove by seemed amazed, and stared in astonishment as they slowed their moving vehicles. It was a rainy morning, and so maybe they wondered, who would take pictures in the rain on a chair?
Towards the end of the shoot, a woman suspiciously approached us, “Who are you working for?” she demandingly asked. Maybe posing near a graffiti wall was too outside the bounds of what was “normal” here. Maybe she had never seen two artists interact with space– the walls and storefronts of the neighborhood– in such a way.
Days later I found myself walking in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, and within ten minutes, I bumped into some photographers and artist propped up against a graffiti wall. They like us, artist, transforming the walls of that neighborhood into their own backdrop. No one seemed to question them. They seemed to be normal sidewalk props that pedestrians avoided. Cars didn’t slow down and drivers didn’t stare.
After some reflection of the photo shoot I conclude this: the way Gari and I engaged the corner of Henderson and Renton Ave. was a radical act of art. And that wasn’t even the original intention. We had no idea onlookers and passerbys would react the way they did.
Gentrification is on the rise, and a trending topic on everybody’s radar. The day is coming when artists taking over the streets won’t be that uncommon in Rainier Beach. But for now, Gari’s ahead of the curve, using the undiscovered gems of the neighborhood, and re-imagining storefronts into beautiful frames. I interviewed Gari to learn more about her perspective. Peep her wisdom below and some of my favorite pictures of the shooting on Henderson & Renton Ave.
drea: What motivated you to do a photo-shoot on Henderson & Renton Ave.?
Gari: I was on my way to the work one day when I walked by; there was something about the yellow graffiti laden wall that caught my eye. I instantly thought about wanting to photograph a woman in a crazy arm chair. I envisioned a brightly colored or oddly patterned chair, oversized. Something that really clashed visually with the ‘harsh’ backdrop. It was weird because this was definitely not the first time I’d walked by it. I guess that day I was paying a bit more attention to my surroundings or allowing my thoughts to wander a bit more.
drea: How do people’s perception of SouthSeattle impact the way people view this corner, did that have something to do with why you chose it?
Gari: South Seattle has a negative stigma attached to it. I’m sure when people, whom have never been here, think South Seattle they possibly imagine all buildings are spray painted or otherwise ‘defaced;’ when the truth is the walls we photographed in front of are some of the few, if not the only, places you see graffiti on a large scale in my neighborhood.
drea: As a resident of South Seattle, and as an artist, what do you see as the greatest asset in our community?
Gari: That negative stigma I mentioned before. I think knowing there are pre-existing perceptions out there only gives motivation to squash them.
drea: As a resident of South Seattle what do you find most challenging as a creative?
Gari: I’m really into collaboration and the idea that two (or more) heads are better than one. I’m disappointed that the connections I’ve made with other creatives in the area haven’t lead to many collaborations.
drea: As a resident of South Seattle, and as an aritist, what do you find the most challenging in our community?
Gari: The lack of communication and collaboration between artists. This area is filled with artists of all kinds and I’m sure a number of them are active, creating and releasing great work. I don’t know about them though and that’s what I think the problem is. I’d like to see a bunch of artists get together and work on a large-scale…something.
drea: If you would have shot this shoot in Capitol Hill, do you think you would have had the same response from onlookers?
Gari: Of course not. It’s no thing to roam around Capitol Hill with camera in hand. It’s normal.
drea: What advice would you give the creative community in South Seattle?
Gari: Connect & Collaborate! Again and again and some more.
drea: What should be the new norm for creative in South Seattle?
Gari: Community definitely. Build on it and expand. I’d like to see more collaborative effort between artists in South Seattle. And more public art being made.
drea: Where can we learn more about your work?
Gari: Find my portfolio online at http://www.gariwatkins.com. Blogging is an old habit I’ve been trying to get myself back into. When my blog is relaunched the link will be on my site.
My published books, Odd Streets and HANDS are available at http://www.blurb.com/user/gariwatkins.
Our neighborhood here in South Seattle has character and natural beauty. What if we re-imagined the sidewalks and made them into our inner-creator’s dream? What if we took over the streets with our art? Would we be better neighbors to each other? Maybe. Most definitely.
drea chicas, who prefers her name spelled with all diminutive letters, lives, works, and worships in South Seattle. She also blogs here.