#OneCityOneLove focuses on Dear Winston messages captured by photographer Owens Daniels

Jeff “Smitty” Smith

#OneCityOneLove focuses on Dear Winston messages captured by photographer Owens Daniels
May 13
14:01 2020

By Judie Holcomb-Pack

The starkness of downtown Winston-Salem at the beginning of the stay-at-home order was the first clue to Owens Daniels that the world had suddenly changed.

“I was going about my daily route and I noticed the city was empty, no noise. It felt like the city was dying.”

As Daniels started walking along downtown streets, he got the idea to take pictures to capture the emptiness of the city. Then he started seeing people walking along who were wearing masks made of different cloths – white professional masks, homemade colorful masks, scarves adapted to cover the face. He wondered what these people were thinking.

It brought Daniels back to a time when he was a young student and his teacher encouraged him to write to a pen pal, a soldier or kids in other countries. He thought, what if average people wrote a note to the city? What would they say?

Earlier Daniels had worked on a project with Triad City Beat called “Faces of the Pandemic.” Brian Clarey, editor and publisher, asked him to shoot photos of people in Winston-Salem wearing masks, similar to what photographer Todd Turner was doing in Greensboro.

On April 18, Daniels approached the first person and asked if she would write a message, She wrote, “Dear Winston, I am here love you.” From that first message, the project took on a life of its own. Daniels has shot photos of over 100 people sharing their “Dear Winston” messages, from homeless people to the mayor, from struggling restaurant owners to artists and musicians. All had a heartfelt message they wanted to share with the city. Daniels said his aim was to “highlight the faces of our community during a time when we might not acknowledge them in passing, at the grocery store, the coffee shop, on the street, at work or at play.”

Actually, there is a backstory to this story: Before the stay-in-place order, but at a time people were becoming aware and concerned about the coronavirus, Daniels took a manikin downtown and placed it on street corners to get people’s reaction to his interpretation of “social distancing.” Before he could continue that idea, the shut-down occurred and he abandoned the project.

Of his overall social distancing project, Dear Winston was the third part, but there was another, even greater part that would happen as a result of his photos. Dale Cole, a local musician and the driving force behind Virtual Village (see the story in the Chronicle’s May 7 issue), contacted Daniels to talk about a compilation of music that he and local musicians were writing that would be released on May 11. Cole introduced Daniels to Chad Nance, a filmmaker and videographer who looked at the Dear Winston project and immediately wanted to make it into a video. Cole brought on Doug Davis, a local songwriter and musician, who offered to write the original score to accompany the video. In a matter of days, the project was snowballing. Daniels said of the collaboration, “It was organic. I had never met the others,” and yet they were all committed to the goal of getting this message out to as many people as possible.

Because I had written poems in response to a portrait in Daniels’ “Birth of the Cool” and “Brown Paper Bag” exhibits, Daniels asked if I could write a poem about the photos. I immediately said yes and in one day I wrote “Look Into My Eyes.” Daniels shared it with the group that was now collaborating on the next step in the project and excerpts were selected to go on the video.

The last step has been Daniels desire to find channels of distribution for the video. At this point, he has personally covered all the expenses for the project. He is researching grants for artistic projects, but so far has come up empty-handed. He is hoping that city council or the Arts Council will provide a grant to cover the cost to produce the video. Daniels is not looking for the project to be a moneymaker; his goal is for the concept to spread across North Carolina, and even the nation and the world. “I want to challenge other artists to do the same thing in their neighborhoods,” Daniels said. He is also suggesting that subjects of the photos donate to a local food pantry in exchange for receiving a digital image of their portrait.

He asked Mayor Allen Joines to share the video with other N.C. mayors and to offer his support. In an email, Mayor Joines said, “Any time we can do something as a community that brings us together around a common issue, we are a better place because of it. I am grateful to Mr. Daniels and others for their work.”

Daniels said, “We may be temporarily apart, but we are always One City. One Love. for our unity is the cure.”

The Dear Winston video was released on Wednesday, May 13, at 5 p.m. on YouTube. Find it by searching Dear-WS “OneCity.OneLove.”

Find more information and view Dear Winston photos on Facebook and Instagram using hashtag #onecityonelove.

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