Thanks to VSL (Very Short List) for suggesting What I Keep, a fascinating series of portraits of people holding a single object they carry with them through life. Photographer Susan Mullally has been collecting these images and stories from attendees at the Church Under the Bridge which has been meeting for 16 years under Interstate 35 in Waco, Texas.
The Church attracts current and formerly homeless people, folks who have struggled with drug addiction, incarceration, mental illness and deep poverty. The portraits are arresting, balancing hope and despair. The people in them are holding on to something they treasure, something that reminds them of their humanity, their identity, their connection to others, their memories. It can be everything from a watch to a family photo, a stuffed animal to a crucifix.
Mullally writes, “This works explores ideas of class, race, ownership, value, cultural identification and faith.” So far, she’s taken 60 photos over three years. It’s an impressive collection.
As a radio producer, I must admit that I find myself craving sound in this project. As I look into the eyes of each person and see what it is they are holding, I wish I could hear their voice – the accents and cadences and dynamic expressions that would bring these images and stories to life.
Nonetheless, What I Keep introduces us to people we might otherwise never meet. It forces us to walk for a moment in their shoes and then to ask ourselves: If you were going to have your portrait taken with one thing that matters most to you, what would it be? What do you keep and why?