Minneapolis is home to the second largest population of Somalis, after Somalia. Many Somalis live in large, colorful buildings in downtown, called the Riverside Plaza. The Somali population in Minneapolis faces challenges such as islamophobia, poverty, and xenophobia. Similarly, the buildings themselves are the subjects of many urban legends and ugly rumors. I made these photos to challenge the concept that the residents of the Riverside Plaza differ greatly from the rest of Minneapolis.
There are more Somalis living in Minnesota than anywhere else in the world, except Somalia. I always knew Somalis were here, but I didn’t personally know any. The buildings that I made these photos in are an unmistakable part of the Minneapolis skyline. They are also the subject of many local legends, the butt of many jokes, and unfortunately a frequent backdrop for news stories about Islamic extremism in the United States. I always knew the buildings were there, but I didn’t know anything about them. These pictures are my attempt to understand part of my city that I didn’t understand before. I didn’t want to assume the worst about these buildings I had seen my whole life, and I didn’t want to let a huge population of fellow city residents continue to be strangers to me. I was curious, and I wanted to know more. I had no idea how long these photos would take me to make, and no idea how much I would learn along the way. The everyday lives of the people in these pictures seemed so similar to my own life experience; for some reason I was surprised by that. I wanted that commonality to be evident in the photos. I came to understand the buildings themselves as a small town; roughly the same amount of people live there as in the small town I grew up in. There is a small store, a school, a playground. Everyone knows everyone. This series of pictures reflects my experience, and nothing else. I do not claim to represent the subjects in these photos beyond the small amount of time we shared in making these pictures. I am simply a photographer who wanted to understand a little more about where I live. We are incredibly powerful together, and incredibly screwed if we are divided. Fear drives all kinds of people in all kinds of directions. Understanding is the enemy of fear. Empathy comes from understanding. Empathy leads to love.
In my young photography career, I have been surprised and overwhelmed with how much there is to know. I am regularly overwhelmed by the work of those who have gone before me, and motivated by those who make photos currently. Making photographs is the most fun, most challenging, and most rewarding activity I have ever participated in.