Now In Its Second Year, Observe Dallas Aims To Become Largest Outdoor Photo Exhibit Maybe Ever.
Head Downtown right now, and you'll see something pretty remarkable: It's right there — in all its glory and in the form of an Apple ad adorning the 29-story tower of the Sheraton Dallas Hotel to promote the cameraphone capabilities of the iPhone 6 — a giant print of a photograph taken by a Dallas photographer.
Austin Mann, who also runs the Design District coworking space Weld, won a contest for this honor, with his iPhone shot of an Icelandic waterfall making him one of 77 photographers from around the world to see their work featured as part of Apple's latest international ad campaign. And an honor it certainly is, seeing one's work displayed on that scale.
But, see, here's the thing. Another project is set to take over the Dallas skyline with photos this spring, and it's a vastly more ambitious project than even Apple's.
Richard Sharum, who has a history of interesting Downtown-based photo projects on his resume, hopes to raise eight separate 40-feet-by-40-feet-or-larger photos (seen here throughout this article) onto five Downtown skyscrapers over the course of a two-month period starting in April. Each of these photos, shot by Sharum himself, includes Downtown Dallas in its composition. More impressive: Far as Sharum can tell, it'll be “the largest outdoor street photography exhibit in history.”
Called Observe Dallas 2015, this year's project is an extension of Sharum's initial Observe Dallas project from last year, in which he randomly placed more traditional-sized prints from a similar set of photos in unconventional spots around Downtown — anonymously at first — so as to give everyday citizens a new perspective on their city.
Of course, this project is a far larger undertaking than that one. And Sharum's going all in there: He's already earned approval from the city to do this project; he's already received permission to hang his photos on the sides of those five Downtown skyscrapers; and he says he's already committed $28,000 of his own dollars to the effort. But installing these prints — not to mention getting them printed to the proper scale and on the necessary weatherproof material — will take more money than that to pull off. Some $60,000 more, in fact, according to his ongoing Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign that will run through April 4 — or right up until just before the exhibit's scheduled April 6 start. On Wednesday, March 18, at one of the participating buildings — Alto 211 at 211 North Ervay Street — Sharum will host an in-person fundraiser that will double as his project's launch party.
Curious to hear more abut his efforts, we recently caught up with Sharum to hear more about this ambitious plans.
You've got a fundraiser set for tomorrow night, plus an Indiegogo campaign, both of which are meant to raise money for this project. Can you tell us what, specifically, the funds you're raising are going toward?
The funds that are being raised go directly to the actual costs of the project — the installation, the printing, etc.
Is this project fully contingent on this extra goal of an extra $60,000 being met? What if it isn't?
I am actually pulling out $28,000 from my own savings to help pay for the total cost. Two of the five buildings participating in the project are owned by Mike Sarimsakci — 211 North Ervay and 500 South Ervay — and he's [behind this next fundraiser]. If I cannot raise the funds, I will have to pull everything I have out of savings to fund the rest. I would hope, though, that the citizens of this great city would help me do this. It's never been done before. I think it's an important milestone for Dallas.
And it's a big idea. How did you go about convincing these businesses to participate? How receptive were they to the idea? How crazy did they think you were for asking?
Surprisingly, it wasn't that hard. I approached them with the confidence of one who might be seen from the outside as slightly insane, but with enough passion about it to make them want to join my crusade. I got the same response over and over — that they had never heard of anyone doing anything like this. I think, once they realized how big this might be for the sake of city history and posterity, they wanted to be a part of it.
We spoke at length last summer about your goals with the Observe Dallas 2014 project — showing people a different perspective on their city while putting an emphasis on the arts, namely. How similar are the goals with this year's project to that one? What do you hope the layperson takes away from this project?
Observe Dallas 2015 is merely an extension of my experiment with the public in downtown last summer — that initial idea put the passerby “in” the image by the recognition of the scene they came across in the images I was putting out in downtown. They were forced to recognize and observe their surroundings and space, thereby instantly connecting them to me and the photograph that I took and coincidentally put right in front of them on the ground. It was a continuous loop, if you will, that put all people walking by on the same level, regardless of social status or race. Observe Dallas 2015 is similar, except the images won't be placed from the exact perspective of where I stood when I took the photo. What it does, though, is still highlight and celebrate the common citizen who lives and works in the downtown area everyday, as all of these images are from Downtown Dallas. That section of the city is a melting pot of all different types of flavors. Every one of them has their place and importance in the makeup of this city. They should all be celebrated with these images. Hopefully, [people will] recognize that and realize that the ground or the buildings they see in my work is the same ground they walk on everyday. Then they become just as important as those people in those images.
How'd you choose this collection of images?
A couple of the images were from Observe Dallas 2014, as I felt they were still strong representations of Downtown. The others I shot much more recently, within the last seven months. I wanted it to be as current of a documentation — for historical purposes – of the city at this place in time. Seven of the images were shot on film, one is digital.
You're not shy in boasting that this is possibly the largest outdoor street photography exhibit in history? But how can you be sure about that?
I pay attention to a lot of street photography out there. It's my full-time occupation as a photographer. Miami has a big, well-known street photography festival every year — but, other than that, there are only small isolated events. Not only are these prints for Observer Dallas 2015 the largest in size — 40 feet by 40 feet at the smallest and 40 feet by 60 feet at the largest — but it will also last two whole months. I haven't found anything that even comes close to the scope of this. Since I live in Dallas, I wanted to do this here versus one of the other downtown areas I've shot domestically or internationally.
Given the scope of this, have you approached any corporations about sponsorship and helping cover those costs? Have they been receptive?
I have not. I wanted this to be for the people, by the people. I understand, though, that this is a “big city” project and that stuff like this isn't seen in Dallas, a city that is trying really hard to be “big.” If I have to fund it myself to make it happen, that's fine. Maybe this will serve as my lamb to the altar, if you will, to be the catalyst that engages big thoughts and bigger action by the artists in this city. If I can do it, anyone can. But it's about more than me, too. During the two-month exhibition between April and May, I encourage anyone and everyone in downtown during those two months to post their own photos of life downtown with #ObserveDallas2015. That way everyone can be a part of it.