Photographer puts up faces of hope on sides of buildings, homes

Faces of Hope
Faces of Hope

Faces of hope are plastered all over Bayou St. John, on the sides of businesses and homes. The black and white photos are part of a project started by local photographer Frank Relle, as a way to celebrate his friend, Steve Gleason.

It's hard work, requiring lots of skill, and some creativity, to get wonderfully silly black and white portraits of everyday people.

Frank Relle is the man behind the lens, snapping up photos for a purpose. "This inside out project is a world-wide project where people stand up for things that they believe in, by making these portraits and posting them around town," Relle said.

Relle believes in supporting his good friend, Steve Gleason, as he battles Lou Gehrig's disease. Relle explained, "When Steve told me he had ALS, I thought what can I do? What can I do to help? To support?".

Relle came up with a unique idea; to post photos he takes of strangers, to the sides of buildings. "So many people in the community want to show something back for him and so by photographing the people, and then posting them around, it's like the images for Steve saying we're putting on our best face for you," Relle said.

The project, Relle says, is bringing the community together. "When you show someone's humanity with these portraits, it creates connection, understanding. A smile on any face, any language is the same. So people connect to that no matter who the person is," Relle explained.

The photographer is hoping people connect to Steve Gleason, the inspiration behind the project, and his organization. Relle told a group of Jazz Fest goers, "We're just trying to raise awareness for Team Gleason and asking people to put on their best face for Steve."

On the first day of Jazz Fest, Relle decided to involve the community in his project. He told another group, "If y'all want to help put a little piece up, as a collage, that'd be awesome. Just pick a piece and glue it on the wall."

Phil and Ann Weishaar are from St. Louis and say, they've never seen anything like this before. "It was interesting visually and the faces were engaging and of course the project is a wonderful one. Brightens everything up," Ann Weishaar said.

Jane Auger is from Massachusetts and came to New Orleans for Jazz Fest. She's never heard of Steve Gleason, but ALS is a disease that hits home for her. "I have a friend whose father died of Lou Gehrig's disease," Auger said.

Just one day earlier, Relle and his friend Liz worked to cover this side of a building on Sauvage St. with whole photographs. It was a painstaking process. Cutting out each picture first, and then measuring the wall, and finally gluing down the photos using wallpaper glue.

Lending a hand was Tyler Barr, who lives in Rhode Island, and happened to be grocery shopping around the corner, when he heard about Relle's project. Barr explained, "I was at Canseco's grocery story just picking up groceries for my house and I was approached by Charlie and he told me about this great cause that was going on down here. And gave me a flier and I didn't have a second thought about it."

Barr says instead of waiting for his family to come home from work by walking the dog or riding his bike, he choose to help total strangers, because he liked the idea of the project and what it stood for.

The building on Sauvage that Barr helped with is one of 20 that Relle plans on using to showcase his photographs. In the coming weeks, he'll put up pictures on homes and businesses across the city of New Orleans.

Terranova's supermarket on Esplanade Avenue has agreed to let Relle use their space, and as more people become aware of the project, Relle is getting more offers.

Another huge fan of the project is Steve Gleason. "Steve's response has been, he's just over-joyed. He mostly focuses on the art of it, the funness of it. He just says they're so fun I want to do more stuff like this," Relle said.

And the photographer says he's seen first-hand how this sometimes silly project, really does bring out the best in people. "Peoples response to this has just been amazing. everybody in the neighborhood, every time they see it, they just get so excited."

Stephen Weliansky, who lives across from the building on Sauvage Street said, "Walking out the door during Jazz Fest and seeing something this beautiful across from the house is amazing. Having it be a part of Team Gleason is even cooler. It's great. It's going to put a smile on everyone's faces that are walking down to the festival."

And that is exactly what Frank Relle and Steve Gleason, are hoping for.

Most of the project is being funded by Frank Relle, but Team Gleason is chipping in as well. Also, some people had their pictures taken at Gleason Gras; they also contributed to the project.

The photos should last a few months, Relle says, barring any severe weather.