Still Standing, the title of Hannah Price’s recent exhibition, suggests endurance, a weathering of storms, and it provides a thematic framework for the photographs she made while an African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund Fellow. The Philadelphia-based artist focused on two Pittsburgh neighborhoods with rich and complicated histories.
One of them, the Hill District, was a thriving Black cultural hub until the 1950s. It was then slated for redevelopment, displacing thousands, many of whom moved to the Homewood neighborhood, Price’s second location, itself later beset by the kind of civic issues, and neglect, that played out in numerous urban neighborhoods throughout America.
Price’s project provides evidence of history and perseverance. In an artist statement, she describes herself as a “documentarian, artist, photographer.” The works also suggest that she is a humanist – previous projects have dealt with photographing and interviewing specific demographics (high school students, for example, or catcalling men). Still Standing included large portraits, of people and sites themselves, both embodying histories. A merger of the two is expressed in James’ View of the Hill, August 2021, in which a man, seen in profile, surveys his neighborhood, the Hill District, from an elevated spot. There are stately buildings, but even from a distance, broken windows are visible. It’s the only black-and-white photograph in the show, and at first glance it could have been taken decades ago – only James’s face mask betrays the contemporaneity.
The color images of buildings are moody and melancholic. National Negro Opera House, August 2021, and the enlarged vinyl print The New Granada Theater, August 2021, depict empty buildings during restoration. The former is fenced in and overgrown with vines, the latter is raw and empty, strung with skeletal work lamps framing a swept pile of rubble. A small back gallery provides an intimate setting for pictures of the childhood home of playwright August Wilson, a historic site, which she photographed prior to its opening as a cultural center in 2022. Cellar, August Wilson’s House, August 2021, shows a raw basement that seems like a storm shelter. Rickety doors allow sunlight – a qualified sign of hope? – to leak into this braced, mid-restoration space.
Price’s architectural photographs are given nuance by the portraits, some of which are accompanied by texts. Ms. Denise, August 2021, depicts a woman in an African print dress, with a calm, firm expression. Her take on the neighborhood’s history, and her own, is offered in the wall text. “I realize that the challenges we as a community have and continue to endure are a sign of our resilience,” she writes.