ONLINE BONUS: Sprouse in action
“I believe that we come to know a city through the people who live there, so my goal is to depict the city of Charlottesville through its inhabitants,” writes Keith Alan Sprouse, of his new initiative, the Cville People Project. Inspired by Humans of New York (HONY), Sprouse has, since May, been hitting the Downtown Mall every Friday, rain or shine, and toting his camera to events and festivals around town in order to create a kind of “photographic census” of the place where we live.
Sprouse, who works by day as a mental health and substance abuse counselor at Region Ten Community Services Board, says that the idea sprang from of a weekend-long workshop sponsored by a group called the Charlottesville Photography Initiative (CPI) and led by acclaimed National Geographic photographer William Albert Allard.
“I realized three things," says Sprouse, "that I was able to approach complete strangers and make portraits of them that I found to be of an acceptable quality, that I wanted to continue to develop my portraiture skills, and that learning more about the people whose portraits I was making was half the fun of it.”
Sprouse says it was pure happenstance that he then stumbled upon the website for Humans of New York, but also points out that he spends more time learning about his subjects than does the HONY photographer.
With no formal photographic training save a single darkroom class before the dawn of digital photography, the 47-year-old Illinois native hit the streets with a Nikon D5100 and began snapping portraits of people from all walks of life, which he does only with consent of the subject.
Seven months later, he’s upgraded to a Nikon D600 and has taken countless portraits, from homeless men to Greenpeace activists to Cville celebrities, approximately 100 of which have appeared on the Cville People Project blog along with a simple descriptor that summarizes each person's unique contribution to Charlottesville.
Sprouse says it’s impossible to pick favorites, but when pressed he cites the day he spent shooting at the first annual Charlottesville Pride Festival.
“The highlight of that day was photographing [the birthday girl] Reigna Beaux, who,” says Sprouse “towered over me with her high heels and had one of the most dazzling smiles I’ve ever seen. I had to ask her to take her shoes off so that I could photograph her.”
Do people ever turn him down? “I’ve never had anyone say anything negative about the project, but I’ve certainly been turned down,” admits Sprouse, though he notes that, in typical Cville fashion, most are polite about it.
Though Sprouse is available for private hire, his approach to photography seems to have little to do with money. In addition to serving as founder and sole contributor to the Cville People Project, Sprouse also provides his skills free of charge to charity and non-profit events like The Haven’s “Help Portrait,” an early December event that gave the homeless and others receiving Haven services the opportunity to take home a professional quality holiday portrait.
“Keith does a great job for us,” says Christian DeBaun, Operations Director for CPI, where Sprouse also volunteers his time doing communications work and community outreach.
“I intend to make portraits of as many Charlottesvillians as possible and share them,” says the vision statement for the Cville People Project, accessible at cvillepeople.tumblr.com.