WASHINGTON PARK — If you walk down Garfield Boulevard this weekend, don't be surprised if a stranger asks to take your formal portrait — no matter how awkward.
Photographer Lamont Hamilton plans to be outside the University of Chicago Arts Incubator, 301 E. Garfield Blvd., from Friday through Monday, working on a series of portraits of Washington Park residents. He will take the portraits from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.
“The root of the project is just to capture Washington Park,” Hamilton said Thursday, his first day of the project. “I’m not one of those photographers that talks about essence or trying to capture essence. It’s about presence.”
He said he’s stopping people on the street searching for that awkward feeling you get when you accidentally make eye contact with a stranger on the train.
“That’s when I know I can do it, when I get that feeling,” Hamilton said.
He said a lot of his subjects on the first day were unfamiliar with having a formal portrait taken. That includes Mel Brown, 81.
“This is something I’ll cherish,” said Brown, who said the only person who takes his photo is his neighbor with a disposable camera. “Half the time I want to tear them up.”
As Hamilton set Brown up in front of his large-format film camera on the shady side of the building, he barely gave him any direction in how to pose.
“Normally when it doesn’t feel right is when I start to interject,” Hamilton said.
Instead he spent the time chatting with Brown. As the two both began to relax, Hamilton began to prep the camera, squinting through the large glass viewfinder and adjusting the framing, never giving Brown any orders beyond what direction to face. After about 10 minutes, Hamilton took one photo and it was over.
“It’s all about understanding that this is it, this is the portrait right here,” Hamilton said.
Brown will receive of copy of the photo after the project is complete and will be invited to an opening reception at the Arts Incubator for all of Hamilton’s Washington Park portraits on Aug. 5. They will be on display for part of the month.
“It’s part of a history of me,” Brown said. “This is a picture of me at the age I’m at now — I just turned 81.”
The Washington Park portraits are a brief break for Hamilton, who has been working on a series of portraits of black artists and arts writers across the country. A book of his portraits will be published early next year.