NPR

Portraits Of The People Who Drive Richmond, Va.

A selection of portraits from Michael Lease's project, Driving Richmond, which features employees of the Greater Richmond Transit Company. (Michael Lease)

The people who keep the world functioning — its garbage collectors, utility workers, public transit operators — often go unnoticed, existing as a kind of invisible backbone to our lives. But three residents of Richmond, Va., want to change that, by focusing on the city's bus drivers. Their project, Driving Richmond: Stories and Portraits of the GRTC Bus Drivers, was on view at the RVA Street Art Festival last month.

Laura Browder first came up with the idea when a former student (and the festival's curator), Vaughn Garland, told her about the exhibition space: a long, cavernous brick building that housed Richmond's public transit company for over 100 years. At the time, Browder was conducting oral history interviews for a project about civil rights in Richmond.

"It was clear to me from those interviews how pivotal buses, and busing, were in this Southern city that underwent profound changes during the civil rights era," she says.

In Driving Richmond, 15 employees of the Greater Richmond Transit Company sit for portraits against plain backdrops. Photographer Michael Lease says the sameness in setting was intentional:

"Aside from his suit, there is no difference in depiction between the CEO, Eldridge Coles, and a young operator like Sheronda Hill. It's my hope that the setting in which the portraits were made equalizes the subjects."

The photographs were displayed with "sound portraits" gathered by Benjamin Thorp during interviews with the drivers.

With these pictures a greater history of Richmond emerges — one of desegregation, women's entitlement, union rights, immigrant assimilation. And though their histories are vastly different, it seems that all those interviewed agreed on one thing: They love their jobs.

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