Joe started his project because he’s a San Jose native, from a family that’s been in the area since the 1820’s. In 2007, he was completing an SJSU degree in industrial design and photography, and he decided to use his skills to give something back to his hometown. He felt that “Big business really tears up small businesses” and that if the community doesn’t support its small businesses, it loses a vital element.
He began taking portraits of small business owners at the entrances of their businesses. His camera is a Hasselblad medium-format camera, the kind traditionally used by portrait photographers for the incredibly sharp prints that can be made from its relatively large negatives. He loves the hands-on process of film photography, and he started out developing and printing the photos himself, but he now uses a professional lab for printing.
Joe says that at first he was turned down by as many as 80% of the business owners he approached, but now he’s usually able to make contact with a potential subject through another person he’s already photographed, and he now has much better success in convincing the business owners to participate. He says that his early efforts to convince people to be photographed, including a 45 minute conversation with one particular owner, also helped him to understand his own motivations and goals for the project.
The project is now just over 100 photos of local business owners. Joe took about 80 of these pictures in the past 6 months, despite having only one free day per week to devote to his project. He had originally planned to move away from San Jose after graduating from SJSU, but he’s stayed here, living near downtown and commuting to Santa Cruz for work, to be able to continue the My Neighbors project. He has no plans to wrap up the project in the near future: “I just want to keep going,” he says.