My life radically changed on Williams-at-Home because in my efforts to share my experience with my family at home, my real family, I started taking pictures. I did not have a camera at that time, but my mother gave me one at Christmas. In every town we went into I bought another Kodak “Here’s How” book. I was excited by light changing and all sorts of new adventures. It started me on a journey of sort of self-exploration. What’s important to me? What do I like? I discovered that I really loved the camera and it changed my interaction with the world. I began to understand a little bit how the camera affects interpersonal relationships, how people respond to being photographed. It didn’t come naturally. I’m kind of a shy person. I’d get the photographs developed in drug stores as we went.

Then after graduation I decided to follow whatever was driving me, a bit in conflict with how my parents saw me pursuing a career.

Thirty years of commercial photography and wonderful successes led me to think, “I started with Gaudino asking questions, exploring people in different parts of the country and here I am not really doing any of that anymore.” So I decided to sort of change my life again and closed my commercial studio. I decided to use my talent, all the skills I’ve been working on for 30 years, to impact other people.

With Gaudino we were always interfacing with a town so I decided to take a town I knew, New London, Conn., that was down and out. Starting with a great history as a whaling center, they’ve kind of been in an economic slide ever since. So people have kind of a down attitude toward themselves as being part of this city. So I thought: I’ll go and start taking dignified portraits of people, grab them off the street, whether they’re a student, teacher, city worker, a prostitute, a gallery owner, very nice portraits that hopefully Bill Gates or J.P. Morgan would have been proud to hang on their wall. We took sometimes 10, sometimes 100 pictures, and they got to choose what made them feel proud or happy. I think this ties into Gaudino’s sense of dignity in all people. I think people caught on to that that I was photographing. They were proud to take their little image. I just gave them a 4-by-6, they took it home, put it on the wall, they put in on the mirror. And I took my copy and put it up on the wall and within two weeks I had a whole community of photographs, 30 photographs of people. And a gallery owner came in and a museum curator came in and they said, “Let’s have a show.”

But I thought about it a little more and I’m not going to have an impact on people by having something in a rarefied place like a museum or a gallery. So I went to the city and said, “Can I have an exhibition outside and put things on your buildings and on the streets?” and they said, “Yeah, anything you want to do as long as you don’t hurt anybody.”

So I put a committee of local artists and gallery owners together and we put on a massive show—there were two pictures 30-feet tall adorning this beautiful train station and we filled up the entire station with portraits and we created steel frames going up and down the streets, each one having two-to-four portraits. They were all life-sized so as you walked down the street you were confronted by these different people that you as a citizen of the town may know, that you didn’t really know. We found that once the portraits are up they help break barriers, cultural barriers. What we found in New London a black guy would be looking at a Hispanic guy and saying, “He’s kind of interesting. I’ve always wanted to talk to him but I’ve been afraid to.”

It really grew from the confidence I had in my Williams-at-Home experience of being able to walk into a community and ask questions and not judge the people that I encountered. You have this nose ring, you’re a lesbian, whatever. I loved the opportunity to meet these people, people sort of telling stories about difficulties they had overcome or were going through, how they started off life in a gang in New Haven, or getting their first paycheck and what that felt like. It’s just staggering to open yourself to whatever happens. I attribute all of that to Gaudino. The State of Connecticut gave me a grant to do a fabulous exhibition in Hartford and other parts of the state. And I thought that if I did this in different parts of the country, in the Northeast, in the South in the West and so on, that might grow to be my portrait of America.

Joe Standart '73, who took all the Williams-at-Home photos in this Oral History (and in one of the Photo Galleries under "Media" atop this page) is a New York-based photographer. Details of his ongoing “Portrait of America" project can be found at