By Elaine Ayala : July 28, 2013
Sarah Lyons’ project sounded simple enough: Get an interesting cross-section of San Antonians to write down a few words on an 8 ½- by 11-inch white board and shoot a crisp black-and-white image of them holding it.
Little did Lyons know that a marker board ultimately would offer such powerful and prophetic missives, or that they’d provoke such laughter or contemplation.
Along the way, 1005 Faces, the name of the work, has bloomed into a public art project and unexpected teaching tool.
It was born out of this year’s inaugural DreamWeek San Antonio, a series of events commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
As she photographed its 30 events over 12 days, the city’s diversity took center stage. DreamWeek creator Sho Nakpodia remarked afterward that Lyons had 1,000 faces of San Antonio. That, as they say, was that.
She has reached the half-way mark and, already, you can see her images across the street from Rosario’s in Southtown, on her web site and Facebook page. Her goals include murals near Rittiman at Interstate 35 and Marbach at Loop 410, “spots that don’t get touched by public art.”
Her images tell an evocative story of a city — from Venus Prado’s self-description as “Human” and Andrés Durá’s thought-provoking “Native Immigrant,” and from the woman channeling Doris Day’s “Que Sera Sera” to David Robinson’s “Trust in the Lord” and “Go Spurs.”
Lyons, a native San Antonian and summa cum laude graduate of the University of Texas at San Antonio in 2009, was drawn to photography after a traumatic experience. A boyfriend accidentally killed himself a few days after she had taken photos of him.
The residual power of those images led her to a professional-quality camera. She signed up for a class at San Antonio College and, “Before I knew it, I’d taken all the classes.”
For 1005 Faces, she has gone to Rackspace’s Geekdom and a South Side park, to a Marie Antoinettish photo shoot and to a place where belly dancers do their thing.
The project’s messages are as wide-ranging as their writers. They caution to “Claim progress rather than perfection,” and to “Pray to God but row toward the shore.”
“If Plan A doesn’t work,” an optimist offers, “remember there are 25 other letters in the alphabet.” And while one cautions to “Start small,” Nakpodia dares us to “Dream big.”
Other notes and faces are fun or fanciful. Lyons’ daughter wrote, “Sup.” A doctor warned, “I see things in you others don’t.” Some explained a philosophy: “Dress British, Think Yiddish,” or admitted that “White boards make me look fat.”
Lyons won a $1,000 grant from the Awesome Foundation, which paid for a mural at the corner of Alamo and St. Mary’s streets. The building’s new owner is interested in underwriting a similar mural on the other side.
Lyons’ dream is to show at the Institute of Texan Cultures or the San Antonio International Airport. That would give people a different view of San Antonio, instead of “Welcome to the party,” which has become the city’s brand.
Lyons plans to complete the project in time for next year’s DreamWeek, when she’ll exhibit 1005 Faces.
She’s not quite done reaching out to more of San Antonio. She plans to include San Antonio’s elderly, its punk rockers and drag queens, too.
Lyons wants to include faces of refugees, wounded warriors, the medical community and well-known people, including Mayor Julián Castro, philanthropist Red McCombs, author Sandra Cisneros and perhaps the most elusive of all — actor Tommy Lee Jones.
A girl can dream.