“YES, THERE ARE BLACKS IN PORTLAND.” It’s been almost four years since Rose City rapper Amine posted (and paid for) the infamous billboard saying those exact words. Yet the city’s lack of diversity has left many wondering the inevitable next: where? “I always get this question, especially from new black people coming to the area,” says Portland-born designer Shani Storey. So, in an effort to show people the depth of the city’s black community, she created her first photographic project “Here I Am’, a book featuring portraits of Black Portlanders, old and new.
Storey – who grew up in North Portland on Commercial and Ainsworth – was first motivated to pick up a camera in 2020, when she started shooting portraits of her friends on film. She was even more motivated after working in a fundraising art gallery at the Big Yard Studio in April of the following year. “After that I decided I wanted to be an artist next year and started thinking about what that meant,” she said. “I grew up in the area where the black community was, then I was deported. So I think I hold a lot of that in my heart, I just don’t want to be erased.
To find the subjects, Storey reached out to family and friends and publicized the project on social media, allowing those interested to sign up for time slots to have their photos taken. While most were captured in the studio, Storey went to shoot some people in their natural element, which she admits was her original plan. “I wanted to focus on 15-20 people who were OG Portlanders, or dope creators or business owners and take a photo in their surroundings and then write a little article about them. But because I wanted the book to come out on June 16, I knew I had to get the pictures as soon as possible.
Despite the adjustment, the finished product proved meaningful not only to Storey, but also to those who were photographed. “This project is solid proof that yes, black people live in Portland,” said Donevera Bailey, who moved to Portland from Texas two years ago. “Yes, there is a community here of beautiful black people. And yes, we unite for a common good. I feel so honored to be a part of this Portland story.
As expected, Storey released the book — which also features handwritten messages from each subject describing what Portland means to them — at the 2022 Big Yard Studio event. Those interested in snagging their copy of ‘Here I I can purchase them through Storey’s website.
Here I am.mp4 by Jasmine Jackson on Vimeo.