Richard Andrew Sharum is at war with Dallas.
Sharum, a Dallas-based documentary photographer, sat quietly sipping his coffee at Good 2 Go Taco. He burst into describing his plan of attack — how he is waging a war on what he describes as Dallas’ “art gap.”
His weapon: a large-scale photography installation on the sides of five downtown buildings titled, Observe Dallas.
“The people here are starving for art.” he said. “They are starving for that type of culture, that energy that doesn’t derive from money here in Dallas; that purely derives from ambition of spirit.”
Eight photographs ranging in size from 40 feet by 40 feet to 40 feet by 60 feet will hang on the the buildings now until May 31.
"I am going to make the entire downtown my gallery," Sharum said.
The first photograph titled One Main Place was installed April 10 on side of 211 North Ervay Street. The others are being installed one per week until May 25. They will remain installed on the buildings until May 31.
"Metro Bar" is installed at 800 Main Street. Video by Daisy Avalos
All of the photographs in the downtown-wide exhibit depict people in Dallas. Sharum said he intends the work to invite all citizens of Dallas to interact and create their own “random acts of expression.”
His first invitations took the form of cold-calls to downtown building owners. Tanya Ragan, President of Wildcat Management, took one of those calls.
Her building, 601 Elm Street, is the only historical building involved in the project. She said that as a downtown resident and business owner it is important to her for more projects like Observe Dallas to be supported by both the artistic community and the city.
The photo selected for her building depicts a father tossing his son into the air in Klyde Warren Park — it is one of the only color photographs in the series and will be installed May 4. She hopes her involvement will draw attention to the West End luring more innovation-related businesses to lease in the area.
“I think it is really really important to have an environment where people can be creative and express themselves,” Regan said. “I think it is great what Richard is doing to give back to his city.”
Sharum explained that his motivation for the project is to make art truly accessible to all citizens no matter their gender, social class or wealth status. He said that he takes issue with much of the established gallery scene in Dallas for its lack of accessibility for both artists and patrons.
In his experience, it is incredibly difficult for emerging Dallas artists to find space to display work in Dallas’ “upper echelon” of galleries until the artists abandon the city for artistic havens like Brooklyn or Europe to become recognized. In his case, he left Dallas, continued his documentary photojournalism in cities around the world and was included in two Magnum Photos masterclasses alongside other world-renowned photographers.
Sharum said that only after he left Dallas and was recognized for his work by other cities and artistic organizations did the “established art galleries” in Dallas want to work with him. Observe Dallas he said will not “discriminate or segregate” against those wanting to make or interact with art.
He hopes to bring the different artistic “cliques” together through everyday feeling inspired to interact with Observe Dallas and post about it on social media with #ObserveDallas2015.
This is Sharum’s second Observe Dallas installation. In 2014, he anonymously affixed eight prints depicting scenes of everyday street life in Dallas on the sidewalks downtown. Each print was placed from the camera’s perspective where the photo took place. His goal was for the photography and the people depicted in the photos to be noticed and appreciated by passersby.
He said all eight prints had either been taken by people walking by or removed by the city within a few hours.
"If someone takes it, it proves that people are starving for art," Sharum said.
Observe Dallas 2015 puts his mission on a scale hard to ignore - something he is counting on to put his more political statements in the project literally front and center.
Sharum is installing two portraits of homeless people in Dallas across the street from City Hall at 500 South Ervay Street, Ronnie on April 20 and Homeless Woman on May 11. He said he wants to call attention to the homeless population living in Dallas and put their faces in a place that the city can’t ignore.
Sharum believes that photography is the strongest weapon for empathy and that putting the photographs in front of City Hall will remind city employees as well as citizens and visitors to empathize with the homeless population in a way they may not have before.
“I think the only reason this world has issues is based on the lack of empathy, not sympathy, but empathy,” Sharum said.
He hopes that these two photographs will make passersby stop and think about themselves and others and how they interact with the city in a way they did not before and that they will inspire citizens to demand change.
“A photo is like a good book or a good song,” Sharum said. “You can see something different every time you look at it.”