All words and images by Emmy Award-winning photographer and anthropologist Joshua Cogan. You might’ve seen his work featured most recently in this video for the DNC featuring the music of Bruce Springsteen; here he tells us all about how that came to fruition:
In all the successive waves of bleak news and political conflict, it’s easy to forget there are always folks of goodwill helping, healing and making the world a better now and at any given moment. As we are inundated by stories of loss and grief that bring into starker relief reckoning we are undergoing as a nation and world, especially in times of social distancing..it is easy to lose sight of this.
At this point, it is likely there are very few of us that are strangers to these stories, either here in this city we love, or across the nation and world. I’ve had the privilege and the challenge to see for myself all the things we must address in our human family for close to 20 years. I believe them to be of critical importance if there is to be human progress. Like most of us, over the past few months, being forced to shelter in place, I’ve come into even greater awareness of the profound injustices and disparities of our nation. As I saw tear gas deployed on peaceful protesters at the White House..hours after I had been there with my young son, wife and my mother, an unshakable depression began to sink in about the future of our country. The inevitable side effect of all this social distancing is feeling removed from our own communities, isolated from our collective connections, and seeing the faces that exist between people of goodwill.
Sometimes, however, life gives us the right medicine just when we most need it. A few weeks ago I received a call from a colleague who was asked to help create meaningful content for the Convention. He told me he needed portraits showing the beauty of the American people. The call was to get the faces of the broad and diverse coalition of humans that are supporting the Democratic ticket.
I reached out to Ryan Joseph, a long time neighbor, community activist and friend here in Ward 4 and asked him if he might be able to support me in this effort. We put a call out to our respective neighbors to show up to Carter Barron as we tried to answer this call, while working through the challenges of doing a production like this during pandemic times. We created an outdoor / socially distanced portrait setup with almost no heads up in 100 degree Mid-Atlantic heat. It was a scorching and cloudless DC, yet people kept coming by the dozens. As the day went on, I got to see the people of our neighborhood. Community advocates, teachers, non profit workers, professors, lawyers, artists and those striving for social justice in the world all made time in their busy lives to answer the call. We got to see their eyes, their smiles as they lowered their masks, and the goodness that shines from their souls. It reminded me of why I love this city so much.
It also reminded me of the long and beautiful history of WARD 4. This home to me and so many beautiful souls has a long history of RISING UP. This was the first place in the city that was blockbusted, allowing for people of African and Jewish descent to own homes; this is where the confederate Army was denied in its attempt to sack DC at the battle of Fort Stevens; this is also one the first truly integrated neighborhoods in Washington DC and the United States.
Having been graced this day to be reminded of all the generational families and individuals that have fought for the soul of this city and the soul of this country was such a gift. The history of the United States is the History of Ward 4; it is why I feel at home here – it is sacred ground. There is something very special and sweet when you get to weave together your own community in the narrative for justice and equality in the wider world.
After the rough cut was received, it was sent up to Bruce Springsteen to see if he would let the song be used for the video. Upon seeing it he not only agreed, but asked to be in it himself, which says to me, he must have felt somewhat of the same thing.
Around 9:20 on the first night of the DNC, all the sudden my phone started being flooded with messages, friends from near and far, from all throughout life started asking me “…hey did I just see you on the DNC???”, as did each of the neighbors who came that day. For me I just felt proud of our ward, our city, and what we stand for.
As I watched the full film, I cried more than once. That’s us, that’s who WE are. Yeah, America is going through darkness as it sees it’s own shadow, but dammit, we can do better, and this isn’t the first time we got up off the ground.
So at the request of a few, I am sharing the pictures of the MANY: