“YES, THERE ARE BLACK PEOPLE IN PORTLAND.” It’s been almost four years since Rose City rapper Aminé posted (and paid for) the infamous billboard stating those exact words. Still, the city’s lack of diversity has caused many to ask the inevitable follow up: Where? “I always get that question, especially from new Black people coming to the area,” says Portland-born creative Shani Storey. So, in an effort to show people the depth of the city’s Black community, she created her first photography project ‘Here I Am’, a book featuring portraits of Black Portlanders, old and new.
Storey—who grew up in North Portland on Commercial and Ainsworth—was first motivated to pick up a camera in 2020, when she began shooting portraits of her friends on film. She was further motivated after working at an art gallery fundraiser at Big Yard Studio in April of the following year. “After that ended, I decided that I wanted to be an artist for the next year, and started thinking about what that meant,” she said. “I grew up in the area where the Black community was, and then got pushed out. So, I think I hold a big part of that in my heart, just wanting to not be erased.”
To find the subjects, Storey tapped family and friends, and put word out on social media about the project, allowing those interested to sign up for slots to get their photo taken. While most were captured in studio, Storey went and shot some people in their natural element, which she admits was her initial plan. “I wanted to focus on 15-20 people that were OG Portlanders, or dope creatives or business owners and take a photo in their environment, and then do a small little write up on them. But because I wanted the book to come out Juneteenth, I knew I needed to take the photos ASAP.”
Despite the adjustment, the finished product proved meaningful not only Storey, but also to those who were photographed. “This project is a solid piece of evidence that yes, Blacks do live in Portland,” Donevera Bailey, who moved to Portland from Texas two years ago, said. “Yes, there is a community here of beautiful Black people. And yes, we do come together for a common good. I feel so honored to be a part of this Portland history.”
As intended, Storey released the book—which also features handwritten messages from each subject describing what Portland means to them—at the 2022 Big Yard Studio event. Those interested in snagging their copy of ‘Here I Am’ can purchase them through Storey's website.