the INCREDIBLE ONION PORTRAITS
In the early 1970s I watched as much of the downtown was demolished as part of an Urban Renewal program. City blocks were knocked down, neighborhood businesses were forced to close, and families and long term residents were relocated to the outskirts of town. By 1980 the mix of personalities, the story telling in the diners, the interactions of the shuffleboard leagues were gone and all that was left of the Urban Renewal site was a widened highway, a bank, and a parking lot.
aerial view of Winooski, 1971
Video of Demolition, 1972
It was in that context that I began the Onion Portraits as both
a documentation and celebration of a community that was under assault.
I chose the onion as prop, appropriate not
only because the townís name, Winooski, is the Abenaki word for wild onions
growing along its river, but because the onion is strong and reeks of a
flavor unsettling to a gentrified sensibility. I saw it as an unpretentious
way of residents affirming their presence in the community. Each day during
October 1976 I exhibited a new
Onion Portrait in the window of an
unoccupied storefront still remaining on the west side of Main street.
As the photos accumulated they spilled into the windows of other establishments
on Main street and the exhibition became a kind of local theater. By the
end of the month many people were asking me to come into their homes and
photograph them for the project.
THE WINOOSKI PHOTOGRAPHS
In 1993 , as Winooski became a focus for Refugee Resettlement programs, I began a new series of "Onion Portraits", photographing immigrant families from who have resettled in Winooski from places like Vietnam, Bosnia and Iraq, asking them to pose with the requisite onion and include in the picture memorabilia, photos or objects that give clues about the places they left behind. There is an ironic symmetry in that while the Federal programs of the 1970s were responsible for the destruction of community, it is the Federally subsidized Refuge Resettlement Program of the 1990s that is making the social life of Winooski more diverse and interesting.
The Onion Portraits continue to speak of specificity. To pose with the
onion is to participate in local lore; Its embrace is an affirmation of