Recently, I visited Lisbon and as I was walking through one of the oldest parts of town–a neighborhood called the Mouraria–I spotted plaques attached to the walls of the ancient buildings that featured senior residents of the block. The plaques are brilliant–stylized photographs designed to remember longtime residents who were there before the shops and restaurants.
One of the plaques at the end of the block explained what the project was all about. It’s called “The Tribute” and it’s a street exhibit by photographer/artist Camilla Watson from Britain designed as “a tribute to the elderly who live here. They walk this beco daily and their spirit makes this corner of Mouraria special.”
Doing a bit more research, I discovered Watson’s reason for undertaking the project in an article from the Evening Standard:
“When I began this project, the old part of Lisbon had not been renovated for at least 200 years,” says Watson. “The walls were full of holes and cracks – and the area had a high density of elderly so for me the old people were ageing together with the old buildings. They were one and the same. So I imagined their faces as part of walls in the streets. And I set myself the challenge of printing them onto the walls themselves.”
What a great idea! And it occurred to me that, since this exhibit is years old, at least some of these seniors must be dead and yet their images live on….on the very street where they spent decades. Watson has since expanded her project to other parts of the old city as she describes on her website:
“I am interested in people, communities and their history. How can we keep a communities history alive? How can we hold onto their memories in rapidly changing environments? I want to bring the past into the present in a way that is visual, creative and accessible to all; especially in historic neighbourhoods and in areas in a process of change.”
It struck me that this would be a great project for New York but with a slightly different angle. Too often, New York neighborhoods undergo changes due to gentrification that make it seem like people and businesses that existed on our streets just a year or two ago are part of prehistoric history. Wouldn’t it be great to do something along the lines of this project to help remember them? Of course the best thing would be to enact laws that prevent them from being forced out but, seeing how that’s not going to happen anytime soon, let’s at least remember them and not ignore our past.
Camilla, if you read this, maybe you can visit and make this a reality.