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In Faces + 10, Susan holds a photo of her late husband, Barry, a noted, local tattoo artist. Susan and Barry participated in the
original Faces project. Barry was killed in a motorcycle accident a few years ago.

A simple black and white portrait captures a fleeting moment in an otherwise complex, colorful life.

The viewer can’t help but probe the subject’s eyes, searching for clues, for the story behind the photograph.

Who are you? Where have you been? Are you happy?

“We’re hardwired to interpret faces,” says history professor John Pankratz, Ph.D.

Over the summer, Pankratz, teaming up with Angela Cremer ’17, brought those stories to life–and, in some cases, back to life–revisiting his popular Faces of Reading: 1000 Portraits of a City project from a decade ago.

In 2004-05, Pankratz documented the diversity of Reading’s population by shooting personal portraits of 1,026 city residents. The photographs were exhibited on the walls of what was then the Albright College Cultural Center on Penn Street, printed on an iconic poster produced by the College, and posted to Pankratz’s photography website.

Over the years, people have asked Pankratz, a prolific photographer, to revisit the project. Finally, at the 10-year anniversary, he thought the time was right.

“Ten years can mean a lot, depending on where you are on the lifecycle–an 8-year-old to an 18-year-old, 20 to 30, 50 to 60,” he says. “As a historian, the chance to have the baseline, to compare with new documents, was irresistible.”

Faces+10 returned to its Penn Street location and ultimately photographed 639 people. The project received
support from the Berks County Community Foundation, which awarded it a $3,333 grant as part of the foundation’s Berks County Arts Fund.

Cremer, who is majoring in communications with a minor in photography, played detective, scouring social media and the Internet to track down as many of the original subjects as possible, while also finding new ones to photograph. At least 32 of the original Faces had passed away, and Pankratz and Cremer paid tribute to the lost at the Penn Street gallery.

Locating the rest was no simple task. In many cases, the addresses given to Pankratz a decade ago were no longer valid. Some of the 2004-05 subjects had been transient; others had simply moved away from Reading and couldn’t be found, though not for lack of trying.

Cremer compared the 10-year-old photographs with Facebook pictures, looking for matches. She used sites like whitepages.com and familytreenow.com to find current addresses, and searched employment references online, trying to trace people through their jobs.

Anyone that couldn’t be found through Facebook was sent a postcard. In total, 335 postcards were mailed out; 78 were returned for an invalid address.

“In some cases it was a guessing game as to whether or not we had found the right address,” says Cremer. “For these cases, we often sent two postcards out to two different addresses, hoping that one would reach the right person.”

For about 275 individuals, no information could be found at all.

The team succeeded in getting 181 originals to come back. Some were just children when they sat for the first photo, returning now as adults. Others made special trips back to Reading from other parts of the state.

“The steady march of years has brought predictable life events—marriages, births, divorces, triumphs and disappointments,” says  Pankratz. “We look for the traces these events have left in the faces we re-photograph. This is a deeply human story; one we all share.”

Pankratz enjoyed re-photographing the original subjects–mini reunions, he calls them–but also the encounters with newcomers. “It was a really wonderful summer, to engage and meet with people.”

Cremer, who turned the summer project into an Albright Creative Research Experience, interviewed the subjects, asking the returning Faces, “What have you learned in the past 10 years?” Answers ran the gamut.

One woman said, “I’ve learned that life as we know it can change in a heartbeat and be turned upside down, but friends and family can help in the next seconds, months and years to right-side it up again.” To the newcomers, Cremer queried, “What do you see in Reading? What does Reading see in you?” Answers ranged from pessimism to pragmatism to boundless optimism.

One man said he saw in Reading “a phoenix rising from the ashes and rebirthing into a new identity. Reading has a strength and resiliency that transcends all of the negativity that has permeated its being. Goodness is at Reading’s core and that will overcome.”

As before, each subject received a free print of his or her portrait, and the images were posted to Pankratz’s website.

But Faces+10 is a child of 2015; the pull of social media was irresistible. Photographs and reflections were shared with the wider community on both Facebook (www.facebook.com/FacesofReadingplus10) and Instagram (@FacesOfReading10).

Like its predecessor, the goal of Faces+10 was to photograph people from all walks of life. The team succeeded again, as evident by the display of black and white photos on the walls of the Penn Street gallery. Photos were printed and displayed in the order in which the subjects came in, regardless of one’s station in life.

“When the faces are lined up, everyone is equal,” says Cremer. “Someone who couldn’t write their name is next to the president of a company.”

While some of the subjects for Faces+10 made a special trip to be photographed, Cremer enticed many people off the street. She recalls one encounter with a man sitting on a park bench. He had just come from a funeral.

“We had the most intimate conversation, a real heart-to-heart. He told me his complete story,” she recalls.

Another man, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, told Pankratz that seeing the photos did more for him than any dose of medication.

The project has also had a profound impact on Cremer, a Berks County native. “It helped me to see past the stereotypes that Reading is a ‘dangerous’ city. Now I only see a big, vibrant family that is filled with pride and hope for a promising tomorrow,” she says.

She hopes to parlay the summertime project into a senior thesis and possibly another ACRE.

Meanwhile, Pankratz and Cremer are hoping to exhibit the images and create a Faces+10 book, “part photography, part sociology,” says the professor. The book would include some of the subjects’ reflections on their city and the passage of time.

“We tried to make the photos interesting in their own right. But personal insights and reflections are so enriching,” says Pankratz.

Some Reading residents brought in their children to be photographed with the explicit hope that Pankratz would revise the project yet again in 2025.

Pankratz says if he’s able to manage it a decade from now, he’d love to take on Faces + 20.

“The changes will be dramatic,” he says

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