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|| News Item: Posted 2009-12-28

Decade Collection: Matt Mendelsohn
'He wanted the poor, the homeless, the disenfranchised. And that's just what he got.'

By Matt Mendelsohn

Photo by Matt Mendelsohn

Photo by Matt Mendelsohn
I wanted to be part of the inauguration of Barack Obama in a way that felt meaningful, not simply freezing my ass off in the cold for one parade picture. And, as usually is the case, something fell into my lap at the last minute.

I was asked to document the People's Inaugural Project. A wealthy African-American businessman named Earl Stafford was looking for a way to give something back on this special day. And so he rented out the JW Marriott for $1 million. Three hundred rooms overlooking the most coveted view in Washington that day. But there was a twist: Earl Stafford didn't want to give these rooms to the rich, the celebrity or the connected. He wanted the poor, the homeless, and the disenfranchised. And that's just what he got.

Stafford and his foundation provided tuxes and gowns to any guest who needed one, manicures and hair appointments, and put on not one but three different balls that evening. In my non-journalistic life, I've photographed almost 500 weddings, some of which feature folks who have everything but don't seem to appreciate anything. This was the opposite: people who didn't have much but appreciated everything. It was a wonderful event to be around.

I love this photograph from one of the balls that night. It was a quick grab picture, believe it or not, in a crowded room of revelers. But there's a timelessness about it that transcends the moment. And I guess that's what a good photograph can do.

(Matt Mendelson is a freelance photographer based in Washington D.C.)

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