D.C. photography contest seeks to put a face on the city

By Derek Kravitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 4, 2010

If there could be a single face of Washington, it might be that of a stately, eightysomething black woman wearing a gray sweater and standing near the rowhouse she she's lived in since the 1940s. She is in her backyard. It's late afternoon. She's wearing no makeup, but a group of five photography experts agree: She's proud and almost regal-looking.

"You've seen that house in the District," said Maurice A. Henderson II, director of the D.C. Counts Campaign. "You can tell she's proud of what she's seen, where she's been. She wears the years on the face, but she wears it well."

Five judges presiding over an ambitious contest to select the faces of the District -- a competition that ties into the 2010 Census count -- whittled down about 150 photographs to 51 winners Saturday morning at the Hilton Washington. The competition is one of many public campaigns for the Census, the once-every-decade national population count that determines congressional seats and how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal aid is distributed, Henderson said.

Max Hirshfeld, an award-winning D.C. commercial photographer, said the photographs showed a "smattering of viewpoints" but it was ultimately the faces, including that of the black woman, that stood out.

"She's representative of an old-time D.C. resident, someone who represents the power of growing up here," Hirshfeld said.

Henderson said Census staffers are also considering compiling an audio record of the photographers and subjects to accompany the public display, which is believed to be the first of its kind to try and put a face to the city.

The 51 images selected by the judges are a mixture of black-and-white and color portraits and profile shots from across the District's eight wards. The number 51 was chosen to reflect the District's quest for statehood.

Among the images submitted: uniformed police officers, the homeless, fashionable young professionals, chess players and toddlers. "It's a broad diversity of people. We weren't looking to be politically correct. This was just the cross section we found," said Theo Adamstein, a photo lab owner since 1982 and the founder of FotoWeek DC.

The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, FotoWeek DC and the D.C. Counts Campaign sponsored the contest. The portraits selected by the judges' panel will be unveiled at an awards ceremony April 27 at Social, 1400 Meridian Place NW, and in May at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

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