Roberta Lynn Ledbetter is a photographer embarking on a journey throughout Alabama's communities to capture the common humanity in our stories.
All That Dwells Within is made possible by a grant from the Alabama State Council on the Arts.
Driving across Alabama with a portable studio, I invite people I meet to tell me a personal story of love, anguish, triumph, joy, or awe, and ask them if I can photograph them and make an audio recording, that I later combine in 1-2 minute videos. The length of each video makes for longer than the average viewing time for portraiture, challenging viewers to discover empathy.
Human emotions such as empathy are closely linked to our perceptions. The discovery of empathy, in particular, is more likely when both visual and audio elements are working together. The best way to know how someone is feeling is visually, by looking in their eyes, and aurally, by listening to their voice.
Texting and email, arguably our most prevalent methods of communication today, are convenient but make detecting emotion more challenging. Also arguably prevalent, is the lack of empathy in our world today. Are we losing this human ability because we don't take time to truly listen to and see each other?
I hope to challenge viewers into slowing down, to see and hear those shared human commonalities that can lead to better understanding and appreciation for others, and that form the basis of communication, to experience how the audio portraits, in aggregate, become an expression of familiar, shared human emotions and states of mind; common narratives distilled into a single collective image of humanity.
The portraits are close-ups, against the same background, in natural light allowing me to engage with the unique, enduring possibilities inherent in formal photographic portraiture and the imperfectible act of reading a face, in which, viewers, in turn, can recognize aspects of their own emotions.
In recording people's stories, we sit facing each other, almost knee-to-knee, and definitely eye-to-eye. I stay silent and look and listen.