HOMER — In 2007, French artist JR pushed the envelope of controversy with his “Face 2 Face” project, where he photographed Israelis and Palestinians and then posted huge portraits of them on opposite sides of the walls separating Palestinian and Israelis areas.
Inspired by JR’s Inside Out projects, Homer and California artist Lauryn Axelrod sought a subject she thought would be less contentious. Hang out on the docks, chat up area fishermen and mariners, take their photos and then post them around town was the idea of “Faces of Fishing.”
She got an earful.
In the middle of Homer’s halibut season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries released its proposed catch sharing plan, a federal rule that if approved creates a new halibut allocation that could cut the daily limit for guided sport fishermen from two fish a day to one.
With charter captains challenging the rule and commercial fishermen defending it, Axelrod shifted her artistic focus. She took photographs, but when she had them printed through the Inside Out project and posted them around town, the faces would come together “to suggest that perhaps we’re all in the same boat,” Axelrod said.
Through her exhibit, Axelrod said she wants to get fishermen talking.
“The idea is to suggest that the industry is larger than the fight over one fish,” she said. “The issue is how to foster a more collaborate dialogue that is both about conservation and sustaining the fisheries.”
The result can be seen on buildings around town. Men, women, young, old, sport and commercial captains, deckhands and fish packers, there’s a commonality in their faces. Photographed at their jobs, they have lined, weather beaten faces.
“Nobody was looking all gussied up,” Axelrod said. “That’s what I tried to say here: It’s people working, but it’s also about their passion.”
Part of TEDx Homer, a series of talks on science, art, technology and the environment held last week, Axelrod’s “Faces of Fishing” is the only Inside Out project in Alaska. Normally a poster is $20 to print, but Inside Out gave Axelrod a grant at half the cost. Bunnell Street Arts Center and the North Pacific Fishermen’s Association also supported the project.
Anyone can build on JR’s vision. Through Inside Out, people can create portrait exhibits on any theme.
“Anybody can do it. That’s what’s so cool about it,” Axelrod said. “I hope people will be inspired to share their own creative visions and cover the walls with their own pictures.”
Originally from Vermont, Axelrod has been coming to Homer the past two summers, wintering in California. With a master of fine arts in writing from Goddard College, but also with training in dance, clowning and photography, she describes herself as a community based artist. Last month Axelrod also organized a public writing project, “One City, One Prompt,” for the Homer Council on the Arts.
“That’s my work: helping communities find ways to build community and express themselves through art,” Axelrod said.
In Cavendish, Vt., she did a community based project where townspeople wrote about the town’s three catastrophic floods. After Hurricane Irene again flooded the town, Axelrod got an email from a friend there saying they’d revived the play by adding a scene and would perform it over the Labor Day weekend.
“’We’re getting air drops of food but we’re going to put on a play,’” Axelrod said of the town. “That’s what community based art is all about.”