Gentrification Photo Project
I decided on this topic for a photo series project in my ‘Digital Photographic Practices’ course, which somehow qualified as an upper-division writing credit. All images were taken on my Nikon d5600 DSLR in the River North Arts District in Denver, CO. Scroll down if you’re interested in reading the full artist statement.
Properly known as ‘River North Art District,’ the RiNo district in Denver merges urban charm with industrial revival. It’s the creative business hub of the state, but most notably hosts talented visual artists. It’s a popular location for galleries, and the impressive art extends to the streets (VisitDenver.com). For young and often tattooed adults, this neighborhood is becoming the preferred spot to enjoy music and microbrews.
This area of Denver has always inspired me. The city sanctions and protects the murals as a reflection of public appreciation. Every summer, renowned artists from across the globe come to participate in the Crush Street Art Festival to positively portray graffiti as a medium.
Before the hipsters moved in, this borough was historically occupied by low-income families. With its rebranding and growing popularity, the area has seen an increase on rent and little access to affordable housing. In 2010, the black population dropped 6%, and the median home value increased by $41,000. This displacement is called gentrification (The Denver Post).
Defined as “the process of repairing and rebuilding homes and businesses in a deteriorating area accompanied by an influx of middle-class or affluent people,” gentrification is the consequences to growth (Merriam-Webster). On paper, this sounds like a great solution to rebuilding the city. It doesn’t take into consideration the lower-income families that will be evicted from these changes. The Colorado government cannot keep up with the exponential development in this area. Businesses are capitalizing on this opportunity, but sometimes inappropriately. Ink! Coffee displayed an A-frame poster which states, “happily gentrifying the neighborhood since 2014” (Denver, Westword). This distasteful advertisement triggered a lot of negative feedback. Native residents are unsuccessfully trying to hold their resistance against the ‘edgy yuppies’ infiltrating their territory.
Interested in exploring this concept of art and economic class, I reached out to my friend Morgan who moved to the 16th Street Mall area earlier this year. I chose him because he’s confident in front of a camera and is always dressed fashionably, which I aim to make a symbol in the photos. Having both spent our entire lives in Colorado and countless days in Denver, we each recognized how the homeless population has expanded over the years. Although it sounds naive, I only became aware about the realities of gentrification when I started watching the Showtime series called Shameless (A.V. Club). It illustrates an impoverished, dystopian family who struggle to survive with the improvement of the community. By season 8, they’ve transformed their financial situation through immoral efforts to enjoy the lavish lifestyle.
To incorporate both variables in my project, I went to Goodwill to find a decently sized but portable mirror. I was influenced to do this after seeing the works by photographers Lauren Williams and Alex Baker, both of whom use mirrors in their portrait and landscape scenes. With this tool I’d be able to reflect the current division of bougie art and the community’s original residents. We explored the RiNo district seeking the most appealing wall art, using the mirror I wanted to capture a different story.
It’s easy to overlook the negative effects of something that’s seemingly progressive. Denver is the perfect stage for this kind of photography as it’s very colorful and has a strong personality. While beautifying a neighborhood should be considered a positive action, it has consequences for others.