I met Meredith Martindale, the founder of PictureDURM, at The Pinhook. Though it is more widely known for riotous fun, Pinhook is also a quiet neighborhood bar on Main Street. I sipped my PBR and listened to a hopeful story rooted in a conscious desire to be inclusive.
PictureDURM reaches out
by: Aaron Mandel
I knew PictureDURM had been community based since the beginning. The idea and website are based on using a hashtag to collect pictures of Durham at this particular time. It is collective, heterarchical, bottom-up. And Martindale knew from the start that if her trove of Durham pictures was to be truly a treasure, it must include a wide circle of views, not just the smart phone owning populace of our gritty city.
This vision became reality after Martindale exceeded her goal and raised over $1,500 through a Tilt crowdfunding campaign. Nearly 50 people backed the project, showing welcome support from the community to extend and broaden how we #picturedurm.
PictureDURM, under the auspices of Martindale, partnered with Urban Ministry’s Workforce Development Program to make this happen. She worked closed with the shelter’s Gin Jackson, the Director of Community Engagement. Together, they developed a plan to get cameras in the hands of twenty Workforce Development Program clients.
Along with cameras, participants received two Durham (DATA) city bus passes, donated by GoTriangleNC, and were encouraged to explore and photograph around town. It was a magnificent win-win for PictureDURM and for the residents from Urban Ministries.
While Martindale revealed how excited participants were, we felt the bartender leaning in unable to resist the emotion of the conversation. Martindale underlined how valued they felt. How much it meant to them to know their perspective mattered and was being solicited.
Martindale and Jackson worked together to make this collaboration an opportunity to reward clients in good standing. Like a field sociologist might, they offered a $5 WalMart gift card upon returning the cameras at the end of the weekend.
Interestingly, and again parallel to sociology or anthropology, PictureDURM elected not to give participants any instructions about composition, nor offer suggestions about what to photograph.
Martindale revealed to me that she had been longing since PictureDURM’s inception to have photos in physical form. The use of the hashtag, website, and social media meant that no matter how many fabulous photographs the project had collected thus far, Martindale had not held one in the palm of her hand.
She worked with Southeastern Camera in Carrboro to develop the film and have prints made. Two weeks after giving out the cameras, Martindale sat in her car outside the shop and began to go through hundreds of photos. It was a lot to take in. She was both excited and overwhelmed. Even weeks later at The Pinhook her emotion was palpable and vibrant.
She noted that she was glad that she had been patient waiting for the right partners to make this kind of project happen in the right way.
She told me that bringing the photos back to the participating clients was truly the highlight. Martindale arranged for each individual to receive one framed shot from their photos, plus a sturdy permanent envelope for safekeeping the rest of their photos.
Participants captured everything from construction and cranes to Duke Gardens. One participant is on the waiting list for an apartment and documented the Durham Housing Authority building as a way of sharing his hopes of moving and living independently. (not pictured)
Martindale, a mover and shaker herself, dreams of an exhibit before long, given community backing. Further down the road, there may be a coffee table book collating all of the PictureDURM photos and preserving them in print. Over 9,000 photos have been submitted using the #picturedurm hashtag, and hundreds more have been submitted through email.
But to really appreciate PictureDURM, one must step back and absorb how it is so much bigger than numbers alone. Meredith Martindale, a former teacher, sees someone learning as a gift that circles back to her. When someone else has a “lightbulb moment,” her heart warms. When someone else feels appreciated, her face gladdens with joy. For her, this project was an opportunity to create that virtuous circle of giving in a non-traditional setting.
As our conversation came to a close, Martindale’s level-headed, but earnest take warmed my own heart. As a native, she noted that Durham is now the trendy thing. But it wasn’t always that way. “It is good to see the growth,” she said. “But we must be intentional about it. We have to think about all of our residents. Or,” she cautioned, “we are not going to fully see the benefit of that growth. It will be empty.”
As if a director somewhere off stage right wanted to echo her words, The Pinhook door swung open. A haggard looking man, barely dressed for the cold weather, came into the nearly empty bar, asking for change. As he walked towards us, he and Meredith Martindale recognized each other, and she greeted Nasir by name. They discussed his recent accident and his visits to the chiropractor.
I shook my head in wonder about the small world, true story, hometown nature of it all. We are a circle.
PictureDURM is a reminder: it is up to us, People.
The following are quotes from participants in the collaboration between PictureDURM and Urban Ministry.
“I’ve always wanted to go see the Durham Bull park. Now I have a reason because I’m a photographer.”
“I’m about to be the Spike Lee of photography”
“If people like my pictures, this might help me provide for my family”
“I’ve had my picture taken before, but I’ve never taken a picture”
“I have something to do this weekend!”
“I’m going to take my 27 pictures about hardship and make them beautiful”
“Do you think some photographers would critique my pictures when we get them back? I would love to learn how to be a better photographer”
“I’m about to show the world my pictures”
“I used to take a lot of pictures, so I know this is going to be really fun”
“I didn’t know I could be a photographer”
“Can you help me enter my photos into a contest?”