A million pictures worth countless words

Photographer Peggy Dyer’s portraits capture the spontaneity of strangers


As of Dec. 24, Boulder photographer Peggy Dyer had captured the images of 4,340 people, leaving 995,660 to go in her mission to photograph a million faces. For the last two years, Dyer has been steadily amassing what she hopes will be the “single most extensive collection of portraits taken by a single photographer.”

The idea occurred to Dyer, a professional photographer, in February 2009 while she was listening to Bon Jovi in her car.

“I’d heard this song a thousand times, but when I heard him sing, ‘I’ve seen a million faces and I rocked them all,’ this magnificent idea just sort of downloaded into my brain,” Dyer says. “I saw these giant collages up on the walls of the Getty and I could just hear my shoes clicking down the marble floors of the museum. Two days later, I started taking pictures.”

Since then, Dyer has traveled across the country and the state, setting up her camera at parties, events, outside of grocery stores, and anywhere else she feels inspired. She carries with her a small white board and encourages her subjects to write a message on it to be photographed with.

“Maybe it’s a motto they have or just a favorite quote, but I invite them to think of the message as a kind of a time capsule,” Dyer says. “What would they want people to know about them in 10 years, 50 years, or even just next year? To meet someone in an instant and ask them what they care about, what they have to say, and then to genuinely tell them it’s OK to express that — it has a really empowering vibe.”

When the task at hand of taking a million portraits starts to seem overwhelming, Dyer remembers the positive effects that her project has had on those who have participated. She particularly calls to mind the 13-year-old boy who was inspired to be openly gay after seeing a photo of two men kissing in one of her slideshows.

“Every time I tell that story, I totally get goosebumps. I’m forever linked with that kid, even though all I did was stand there and say, ‘It’s OK to feel that,’” Dyer says. “There’s all these messages out there about what’s not OK and how you shouldn’t be. I don’t think there’s enough authentically positive messages that encourage people to be OK with themselves right now, exactly how they are, here, present, perfect. That’s a very deep message that I’m trying to bring forward with this project.”

Earlier this month, Dyer photographed 233 people in two and a half hours at an event at the Boulder Theater.

As her project continues to gain momentum, Dyer recognizes that by jumping straight into her inspiration two years ago, she slightly neglected to consider certain logistical components necessary to chasing her vision. Important elements like money and organization have been a learning process for her as the project has evolved.

While the set up, editing and post-production processes can be exhausting, when Dyer is photographing, she says she feels endlessly energized.

To share that energy, Dyer has partnered with several charities, including The Davis Phinney Foundation, which aims to improve the lives of people with Parkinson’s disease. Dyer traveled around the country interviewing and photographing people with Parkinson’s disease for the Foundation to make an educational booklet.

“We’re all connected; that’s what I want the project to show,” Dyer says. “I want people to look at the work and feel connected to each other and their community. That way, if they see they’re blessed and have all this abundance, maybe they’ll turn to the person next to them and say, ‘Here’s my hand; how can I help?’ Maybe they will share a meal or a laugh, or even just a moment of being truly present with each other.”

Dyer’s work can be seen in Boulder at the Walnut Cafe and Mountain’s Edge Fitness and will be displayed at Studio Shakta on Jan. 7 during Denver’s monthly First Friday Art Walk.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

Previous articleNintendo 3DS could be hazardous for children under 6, company says
Next articleOprah Winfrey says she’s ready for whatever happens with OWN