Another Way to Count, One Photo at a Time

Posted April 26, 2010 at 4:03pm

If the U.S. Census Bureau used talented local photographers to take a sampling of the District in pictures instead of data, it might end up with the same results as the 2010 Census: Portraits of DC contest.

Sponsored by the D.C. Counts Campaign, the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and FotoWeek DC, the competition solicited portraits of D.C. residents from local photographers. The goal of the competition was to increase awareness of the 2010 Census, as well as to promote the arts.

The top 51 will be unveiled during a reception at 7 tonight at the Columbia Heights pub Social (1400 Meridian Place NW). Maurice Henderson, director of the D.C. Counts Campaign, said Portraits of DC offered locals a way to promote census participation in a less direct way.

“It’s using this platform of art to educate in a nonthreatening way, getting people involved in the census in an indirect process,” he said. “It’s just another guerrilla marketing tool, as far as I’m concerned.”

The process had an unusually quick turnaround, recalled Gloria Nauden, director of the DCCAH. Once Henderson and the owner of Social had hatched the idea for a portraiture contest, they brought it to Nauden and her staff. Within three weeks, FotoWeek DC had signed on, too, and the call for entries had gone out to photographers on distribution lists the DCCAH and FotoWeek DC already had and over social media.

“From an idea to fruition, it may have easily been the quickest turnaround in a government execution,” she said, laughing.

The contest attracted more than 200 entries. Five judges whittled them down to the top 51, a group of pictures that strives to portray the diversity of residents of the nation’s capital. Founders of the contest hoped hard-to-reach District demographics would be targeted, and among those photographed are black, white, Hispanic and Asian residents of both genders and from all four quadrants.

Over the summer, the photographs will be displayed in the Washington Convention Center, and they’re already available in a gallery online at issuu.com/thedcarts/docs/portraitsofdc.

Henderson said he is part of a working group of those trying to encourage census participation in seven cities. He wasn’t aware of other cities using photography contests to promote the census, but he recommended the idea to his counterparts.

“They enjoyed the idea of this, and a couple weeks ago I had the DC Rollergirls out wearing D.C. census shirts at their championship,” he said.

As of mid-April, census participation in the District was higher than in the 2000 Census, Henderson said. Members of the public can track census participation rates online at 2010census.gov.