A box, a picture, and a life revealed

By AMY LITTLEFIELD  |  November 9, 2011
Several years ago, photographer Scott Indermaur came up with a novel way to connect with his subjects: give them each a wooden box — six inches square and four inches deep — and ask them to fill it with objects that represent their beliefs.

Indermaur photographs his subjects in near darkness, with a flash unit trained on their faces. Flashlights illuminate the box, which, depending on the person, may be filled with anything from salad to a newborn baby.

He calls the project REVEALED. And 19 of his photographs now hang at Providence City Hall as part of a collaboration with public radio affiliate WRNI's "This I Believe — Rhode Island," a weekly radio program that features Rhode Islanders revealing their beliefs — sturdy and whimsical — in short essays.

All of those photographed for the exhibit, "This I Believe REVEALED," have written essays for the radio program, hosted by Rhode Island College professor Frederic Reamer and inspired by Edward R. Murrow's 1950s series. And their words hang below the portraits.

The results are strange and creative and affecting. Janine Weisman's box is overflowing with salad — some of it stuffed into her mouth. Her essay reveals the meal is a poignant tribute to her mother-in-law.

Sam White, founder of the arts carnival Wooly Fair, throws confetti at the camera. Sonn Sam, who wrote about his brother's death from starvation in a Cambodian labor camp, holds an empty box with a Buddha pendant dangling from the top. Children's building blocks — some of them inside the box, some of them outside — spell "W-O-R-D-S" in the portrait of Reamer, the host of "This I Believe — Rhode Island."

Reamer says melding Indermaur's project with the radio essays seemed a "natural marriage" to him. Even in the bustling atmosphere of City Hall, the combination of heartfelt words and dramatic photographs sets a museum-like tone. "This is, if you will, a traveling museum of people's innermost thoughts and feelings," says Reamer.

What is perhaps most striking about "This I Believe REVEALED" is how willing subjects have been to bare their souls — both before Rhode Island public radio listeners and before anyone who sees the photographs.

Subject Wendy Lawton says the photo session felt like a fun reward for airing her vulnerabilities on the radio. Lawton wrote her essay about confronting her tendency to spend money she did not have. "It was a very, very honest essay about a very taboo topic," she says.

Her portrait shows her with three butterflies, which she sees as a sign of redemption.

Indermaur, who is raising funds on Kickstarter for a REVEALED book, says he has photographed more than 200 subjects from Los Angeles to New York City — including fourth- and fifth-graders at schools in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, who have contributed some creative ideas. One student poured a box of water on her head, he says.

His collaboration with WRNI is on display now through December 9 and an artist reception for the project, which was funded in part by the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, is slated for November 15 from 5 to 7 pm at City Hall. Five additional portraits of "This I Believe — Rhode Island" subjects will be displayed on easels at the reception, Indermaur says.

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  Topics: This Just In , Photography, Rhode Island College, Janine Weisman,  More more >
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