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Harris: 'I've Got a Home'

Photo courtesy of Daesha Devon Harris Saratoga Springs resident Henrietta Jackson is shown in a vintage photograph from her childhood. The image is featured in "I've Got a Home," an exhibit running through Feb. 26 at the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs.

Photographer Daesha Devon Harris wanted to chronicle the people of Saratoga Springs who probably won't get mentioned in local history books.

Families like the Walworths and Batchellers are ingrained in the city's lore, but other surnames that have been around for generations aren't even footnotes.

"It is important to me to explore the history that is typically never told or acknowledged," Harris said.

In "I've Got a Home: Inside a Community of Color," an exhibit opening this weekend and running through Feb. 26 at the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs, Harris documents some of the faces of the city who contribute to the region's rich culture but rarely get recognition.

Over the past year, Harris has networked to locate members of the African-American community and take their portraits for an ongoing project. With assistance from Angie Coleman, the photographer wrote letters and reached out to longtime residents.

"I did it like a treasure hunt. Every person I photographed, I asked for suggestions. Every single person gave me a couple of names," Harris said.

A native of Saratoga Springs, Harris said the project, which received an individual artist grant from the Saratoga

Program for Arts Funding, helped her become better connected to a shrinking community.

"I knew more than half of the people - this is a small town," she said. "But it was so cool to meet people I didn't know but knew of me through my family."

Even in the past two decades, Harris has seen how the modification of the city has affected many residents.

"The population is very fragmented - that's the nature of gentrification. It pushes people away and makes it harder for them to get together," she said.

Many neighborhoods that were traditionally black are gone, according to Harris.

"So many of the people I photographed, the houses where they lived and grew up are no longer standing," she said.

The photographer's portraits show the strength and dignity of the city's black residents, who often have lived their entire lives in Saratoga Springs.

Though some potential subjects were camera shy, Harris said the idea was well received.

"Even the people who turned me down were interested in the project," she said.

To complement her own portraits, Harris also collected vintage photographs for the exhibit.

"I'd say the oldest photo is probably from the early 1900s," she said.

The juxtaposition of images strengthens the photographer's message by showing the long-lasting roots many families have in the city.

Harris, who does photo restoration and archiving through her Visual Recollection business, also is working to create a historical photo record of the black population in Saratoga Springs.

"I keep borrowing and archiving photos," she said.

Though Harris has been working to capture the images for about a year, the work is really just beginning.

"I'd like to have a second leg to this project. There are some people I didn't have a chance to get, and I'd like to have some additions," she said.

African Americans are a minority in Saratoga Springs, but Harris would like her

photo work to show the significant contribution the

population has made and continues to make to the region's heritage.

"Hopefully, the general public will come to understand that black America (or Saratoga) - people of color, African Americans - however you'd like to say it, we are not a monolith but a multitude of diversity and richness, and that someday we are credited with our central role and contributions to this country and city," she said.

 

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