Back in 1980, when I was but a fledgling publisher and Isthmus was barely established but gaining real traction in the community as the Thursday must-read, a young photographer showed up at my office in the old Washington Hotel (like some other names in this column, gone and in danger of being forgotten). His name was Douglas Edmunds, and he explained that he was in the midst of putting together a show of portraits of Madison notables.
He explained that his idea was to photograph Madison folks who were making a difference of some sort in the community, and to get from them their recommendations for other subjects in the series. He ended up with 81 images of Madison people, some prominent, some not so prominent, but all of whom exerted their own peculiar influence on the local culture. He called the collection "Citizen."
I'm reminded of this by our cover story this week, "Don't I Know You?," which follows a related, but not identical, theme: Madisonians whose faces you might recognize but whose stories you don't know. The result is 10 thumbnail portraits of folks you might see every day, penned by 10 different authors. The profiled individuals are not necessarily extraordinary, except perhaps in their ubiquity, but they are emblematic of the rich assortment of personalities that have always distinguished Madison from just any old town.
I guess that's what drew me to the comparison with "Citizen" - the mix. I'm sure that if Douglas Edmunds were creating his project today, some of our "familiar faces" would be his citizens. Looking back at the roster of nearly three decades past, it is interesting how the faces of the prominent blended with the familiars who had no fame, at least none that lasted.
So if you were to study the poster of the "Citizen" exhibit (which ran March 29-May 9, 1980, at the Madison Art Center) that currently hangs upon my office wall, you would undoubtedly recognize the names, and probably the faces, of Shirley Abrahamson, Paul Soglin and Ben Sidran. But how about Art Nesson, Jae Bock (Joe) Chung or Ed Durkin? There was a time when the latter three were just as well known as the former.
Fame is fleeting, said the man, but in any given point in time, it is the people who make the place. Or, at least, the place lets the people be who they will.