A local Jamaica Plain photographer has launched a project to document and connect with neighbors by photographing them in their homes.
Jake Belcher, an eight-year resident of JP, came up with the idea for JP Neighbors about four years ago. Belcher posted an open call for portrait subjects, and an artist named Roberto Chao responded. When Belcher was photographing Chao, he got to know him and learned that they shared a connection: Chao had lived in and designed the interior of the home that Belcher himself currently lives in. Belcher said that his original idea was to photograph some residents of his housing community, but after Chao’s photography session and another successful photo shoot with another resident, Belcher reconsidered his idea and started thinking about the potential to learn about and photograph others in the neighborhood.
Three months ago, Belcher reviewed his work. Looking at the portrait he had made of Chao, who was photographed in his kitchen surrounded by his mementos from his travels around the world, Belcher was again inspired to photograph more of his own “backyard” by photographing Jamaica Plain residents in order to get to know them better.
In late April, Belcher posted on the Jamaica Plain Facebook group an open call for JP residents who would be interested in having a free portrait taken. Within minutes, Belcher had 10 responses, and by the end of the day, had about 100 responses from people interested in being part of the project. Belcher is still working through the responses and reaching out to the respondents.
“Needless to say, I was tremendously grateful and a little overwhelmed by the genuine interest people have for this project,” Belcher said.
When Belcher works with a subject, he is not necessarily interviewing them, but hopes to make portraits of them and get to know them a little in the process. So far, he’s photographed over 20 people for the project, and the photographs are all taken in the subject’s homes.
“Making the choice to photograph subjects in their home I wanted this to reflect who they may be at the time,” Belcher said.
Belcher does not charge for the portraits in the JP Neighborhood series, but he is a full-time freelance photographer and has to schedule the photo sessions in between his paid assignments.
“I’m really happy with the work I’ve accumulated from this endeavor so far,” Belcher said. “After the portraits are done I’m working on following up with people and interviewing them to provide more context to the pictures in an effort to understand them better and how they see their neighborhood from a socio-economic standpoint. It’s still a work in progress with concepts I’m still exploring where I feel I’ve only really started to scratch the surface.”
Belcher has been able to put together vignettes about some of his subjects he’s photographed so far. Tim is a specialist in the study of childhood, youth, and development studying the political economy of education in Rwanda who travels to this country 2 or 3 times a year. River has transformed his bedroom into an all-purpose highly styled living space. A couple has revealed to him that they are 14 weeks pregnant. Belcher has heard the story about a man who turned his passion for music into a lucrative career working for independent music labels and is now a real estate agent in the neighborhood.
“There are many people so far that I’ve gotten to know a little bit through this project that are just living their lives here in JP,” Belcher said. “Coming from a background in photojournalism there is this inherent curiosity I hold and I wanted to use that to drive this project and the desire to document the people in the neighborhood in this period of time is important to me.”
The project will continue through the summer. Belcher said he is interested in documenting more diversity, as well as residents who have lived in JP for over 20 years who have witnessed major changes in the community. Belcher hopes to eventually exhibit his work to put a spotlight on the residents of JP.
“I’m proud of where I live and have known this is a special place for many reasons and want to show why this area is unique through these portraits,” Belcher said. “Ultimately the end goal is to gain a better understanding about the neighborhood in which I live. Years from now if I’m living somewhere else I never want to have the regret of not attempting a project like this… I just want to thank the people who have participated in this project so far and look forward to making more portraits of people in the neighborhood.”