May 23, 2018
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Identify Project helps people examine ‘labels’

By Brian Swartz, Of the Weekly Staff

BANGOR — Local photographer Jodi Renshaw seeks volunteers to participate in the Identify Project.

The sole requirement: leave all preconceived notions at home.

Renshaw, who operates Studio 36 on Central Street, recently launched the Identify Project to learn how people identify themselves and other people. The goal, she explained, is “to get people thinking about labels” and placing other people in “boxes” via “prejudgments.”

According to Renshaw, Americans often believe that applying a particular label — political affiliation, religious belief, sexual preference, to name a few — to someone else also confers certain traits (usually undesirable) to that individual. Such labeling — or “placing someone in a box,” she said — prevents those making such judgments from “seeing the real person,” either physically or internally.

Before launching the Identify Project, Renshaw “was very interested in the diversity of people.

“We’re not flat human beings who fit into these boxes that others place us is,” she said. “As often as not, we’re all over the place; we don’t fit neatly into these boxes.”

The Identify Project “seeks to explore how we identify ourselves and one another,” Renshaw said. To accomplish this, she wants to photograph 100 adults from the Bangor area. Volunteers complete questionnaires asking them to identify themselves by gender; culture, ethnicity, or race; religion or philosophy; political affiliation; and sexual orientation, among other categories.

Known only by their first names or monikers, volunteers also “identify one another” by viewing other project participants’ photos, Renshaw said. She asks a volunteer to study a photo and then “identify the person” by political party, religion, etc.

“The answers can be eye-opening,” especially when the viewer thinks someone’s physical appearance or choice of attire equates “with a particular label,” Renshaw said.

“If I were to give you a set of portraits and ask you to pick out the lesbian, the Republican, the Christian, or the atheist, you would then be forced to deal with your preconceived ideas about what people in those categories look like,” she said. “That is a very unique and interesting introspection.”

Renshaw hopes that through the Identify Project, participants will learn “to relate to each other more … to stop seeing people who hold different ideas and beliefs as the enemy.

“I hope this project can challenge our own personal prejudices,” she said. “Sometimes our pre-judgements are accurate, sometimes not, but it does a person good to see where they come from.

“We humans are so dynamic, and these labels can fall short of showing how unique and diverse we are,” Renshaw said.

The photos are important to the Identify Project. Renshaw explained that “art gives you the experience of looking at your own prejudices,” she said.

Renshaw wants to wrap up the photography in March and have the Identify Project “ready for exhibition by June.” She plans to matte the 8-by-12-inch portraits and display each with a placard that, with its folded part raised, reveals the subject’s self-identity. Renshaw is seeking a place for the Identity Project exhibition.

So far she has photographed more than 40 people; she would like to photograph at least another 60 volunteers. To participate in the project or learn more about it, can 299-2869, email, or log onto

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