If you were walking around downtown Dallas in July and August 2014, you might have noticed museum-quality prints showing observers a picture of their exact location. Those photographs were part of an anonymous social experiment dubbed Observe Dallas, designed to get people to see the beauty of their hometown.
Those photos were shot and displayed by Dallas photographer Richard Andrew Sharum, who's coming out of anonymity to do a second Observe Dallas starting on April 10 — this time with city approval. Said to be the largest street photography exhibit in Dallas history, Observe Dallas consists of eight photos displayed on the outside of five buildings, all depicting people you can encounter downtown.
The photos, one of which is 40 feet by 60 feet, show a variety of people, including fathers with their children, the homeless and workers going about their day. Sharum says the project is designed to get people to understand the beauty that's around them every day — beauty they might not otherwise notice.
"[The goal of this is] getting people to recognize that this is their downtown, and it can be seen in a beautiful light," Sharum says. "They probably walk by these same scenes every day, but they don't really observe their surroundings critically, and therefore use those critical observations to express themselves."
"Whether they're homeless or a billionaire walking the streets of downtown Dallas, [people are] all on the same plane of having the opportunity to observe this themselves."
Sharum selected the buildings on which to display the photos — located at 211 N. Ervay St., 800 Main St., 500 S. Ervay St., 325 N. Saint Paul St. and 601 Elm St. — with great care, to impact a diverse group.
"I chose the buildings strategically based on parts of downtown Dallas that I think need more public work, and where I saw a lot of people walking every day and knew there would be a lot of traffic, a huge diversity of humans," Sharum says.
"By displaying it in certain areas of downtown where all walks of life live and work, then it includes everyone and doesn't discriminate against anybody."
The eight images will have staggered releases, with the first one, titled "One Main Place," going up at 211 N. Ervay St. on April 10. That one will stay up for a full year, while the other seven will have stays ranging from one week to almost two months. All eight photos are shown in the slideshow, along with the dates they will be displayed.
The inclusion of pictures of two homeless people is especially important for Sharum, as he's hoping to lead social change and inspire people to help come up with solutions for the area's homeless.
"I truly believe observation is the key to empathy and education, two ideals that are important to the progression of mankind," he said in a release. "I want these images to inspire people to pay attention to their surroundings, whether it's addressing the homeless issue, something I find people are afraid to talk about, or simply creating their own works of public art."
For Sharum, the project is less about him and more about the people in the shots and the people who will encounter the photos. He wants people to post their own photos on social media outlets, using the hashtag #ObserveDallas2015, to share their experiences downtown.
"I want people to be a part of it, whether they are photographers or not," Sharum says. "Everybody has a story to tell, and everybody sees wonderful, fantastic things every day downtown, but they have no outlet to express themselves, or they haven't even had the desire to express themselves.
"So hopefully this serves as a catalyst for people to at least try to document their lives or document their surroundings in downtown Dallas."