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Community ‘imagineers’

When Justin Thor Simenson and Hakim Bellamy began to collaborate on the project that would eventually morph into the “We Are Neighbors” exhibit, neither man could fathom the result.

After meeting roughly 10 years ago on a Black History Month gallery opening that Simenson was taking Bellamy’s photo for, the pair became community “imagineers” in a neighborhood that neither one of them actually lives in. Simenson works near the neighborhood featured prominently in their book, “We Are Neighbors.”

Photos by Justin Thor Simenson are part of the “We Are Neighbors” exhibit at the University of New Mexico.

The black-and-white photographs featured in the book are of homes, curbs, construction and “lawnscapes” in a working-class part of Albuquerque east of the University of New Mexico between Nob Hill and Uptown.

As a civil designer, Simenson was more interested in the things we build, more so than the people who build or live in them.

“We Are Neighbors” is a book of 24 photographs and micro-poems.

There is also an exhibit that runs through the end of March at the Rainosek Gallery inside the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of New Mexico.

“It was really a comedy of errors on how we got the space,” Bellamy says of the exhibit. “It turns out we’re sharing the space with ArtPlace America, which the exhibit falls in line with.”

ArtPlace focuses its work on creative placemaking projects in which art plays an intentional and integrated role in place-based community planning and development.

Bellamy and Simenson were able to turn around the exhibit in a couple of months.

The book took nearly seven years to complete, and Bellamy says that when Simenson began, there were more than 60 photos to choose from.

“The first thing I noticed about the photos is that they are streetscapes,” he says. “There are no people in them and it was intentional. Justin wanted the eye to step back and take in these types of frames. As a poet, I don’t generally look for people. I look for a story. I did about 40 poems and only 24 were good, and that became the book. It was an exercise on how a photographer and poet look at things.”

The book will be for sale at Bookworks and the UNM Bookstore.

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