READING, Pa. - A lot can change in 10 years, and then again, a lot can stay the same. Capturing the decade is a challenge, with 900 photographs in the Faces of Reading 10 exhibit. They are photos from then and now.
"We've had people come in who are even familiar with the project, and they stand and they look around at all these faces on the wall and they say, 'Whoa, whoa,'" said photographer John Pankratz. "One of my colleagues asked, 'How did you choose who was going to be in it?' and I said, 'Oh, I didn't choose who was going to be in it. They chose themselves.'"
In 2005, Pankratz, a photographer, historian and Albright College professor, set out to take 1,000 portraits of folks who live, work, and have a connection to Reading. He set up a studio downtown. The idea, he said, was partly to satisfy his own appetite for taking pictures, but also to help tell the city's story and perhaps how much we have to learn from one another.
He asked those he photographed two questions: What do you see in Reading, and what does Reading see in you?
"It ended up being 1,026 faces," Pankratz said. "I think I knew my own hopes, but I didn't realize the various energies that other people would bring to it."
Ten years later, in 2015, with the help of collaborator Angela Cremer, he took those pictures again in the same space. He asked the questions again and added in one more: What have you learned in the last 10 years?
"We sent out postcards to people, many of them returned, people moved to all over the U.S., California, Florida," Cremer said. "We found people everywhere."
One person made the trek from Hawaii, in the end, reuniting with nearly 200 faces.
"Reading has certainly changed demographically, and I think it all sorts of people have adapted to that change, as well," Pankratz noted. "I think we learn better, how to get along with each other and how to deal and how to speak different languages and hear different languages. I think it's a city that is maybe less unhappy than it was in the 1990s. That's my impression."
At the Freedman Gallery on Albright College's campus in Reading, in rough alphabetical order, you can see the Faces of Reading. A silver piece of tape connects the 10 years between them.
A couple who were on their first date are now married. Love and loss, joy and pain, it's all on the wall and in their faces. All connecting us.
"I think in order to have a community, you have to be able to imagine a community. You come here and you say, all these people have something to do with Reading and I do, too," Pankratz reflected. "They can see the diversity and see what we can do together."
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