ericamerylthomas [at] gmail [dot] com

In June of 2014 I worked alongside my collaborator and friend, photographer Emily Fitzgerald to produce Public Displays of Affection. RACC (the Regional Arts and Culture Council) organizes the Portland Building Installation Space and decides who gets to show there. Emily and I both explore intimate relationships with our work so we proposed to fill the space with a temporary photo studio and shoot portraits of the workers in the building with their "chosen families." When I think of family, I might first think of blood relatives. But many of us have people in our lives –a friend, neighbor, roommate, step-sibling, partner– that are like family members by choice. So, when we say chosen family, that's what we mean.

We offered studio sessions in late May and June 2014 and took photos of nearly 40 groups and individuals. As we shot we were also going through a collaborative editing process to select the images that we felt best reflected the nature of the relationship. For each session we selected one image to print, frame, and install on the space. Each week we brought a new batch of framed prints to hang. This created a sense of flux that brought people back to the space over and over to see the changes and the new images of their friends and coworkers.

For the first phase of the project, we installed a photo studio into the gallery space. We invited anyone in the building to come in and be photographed with their chosen family. Participation started slowly, but grew more and more as the project went on.

For the first phase of the project, we installed a photo studio into the gallery space. We invited anyone in the building to come in and be photographed with their chosen family. Participation started slowly, but grew more and more as the project went on.

During the exhibition we were interviewed for OPB's Arts and Life blog by Ifanyi Bell. From the article:

"Public Display of Affection (PDA) is this formalized term for a really personal way that people interact in a public space. It's also a way of acknowledging the observer of the interaction in a way, which in this case includes both me and Emily shooting the photos and the viewers of the installation," said Thomas... "We're asking people to step into the studio, and into the public, and tell us why they chose to be photographed together."

You can listen to an audio interview on the OPB radio program State of Wonder. Selected images from the project are below.

"I got myself this internship."

"I got myself this internship."

"We lived together and then we all went away to different countries for a year. When we came back we knew we needed to live together again."

"We lived together and then we all went away to different countries for a year. When we came back we knew we needed to live together again."

"He's a serious kid. He's always been that way."

"He's a serious kid. He's always been that way."

"I couldn't bring my cat, so I brought my plant." 

"I couldn't bring my cat, so I brought my plant." 

"After 16 years of working together she's leaving to take a job in Astoria at the end of June." The last day of the exhibition was Caitlin's (left) last day. They came down to the exhibition to pick up their print and couldn't stop laughing or crying. 

"After 16 years of working together she's leaving to take a job in Astoria at the end of June." The last day of the exhibition was Caitlin's (left) last day. They came down to the exhibition to pick up their print and couldn't stop laughing or crying. 

"She really didn't want to be photographed."

"She really didn't want to be photographed."

"I retired last week."

"I retired last week."

"Our team really is like a family. We work together really well."

"Our team really is like a family. We work together really well."

"We used to work together but we still get together for lunch all the time."

"We used to work together but we still get together for lunch all the time."

"We have fun at work together."

"We have fun at work together."