The subtle power of owning a home comes in sweet, simple pleasures - turning up the music as loud as you want; painting your walls orange, fuchsia, or black if you'd like; having a quiet place of refuge. So says Bill Bamberger, who has been researching the subject through his photography for years. He is the principal artist of "This House is Home," an exhibit documenting the effects of affordable home ownership in low-income communities across America. The travelling gallery will tour three cities - first stop, San Antonio - before eventually parking at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. for a major exhibition in 2004.

Sponsored by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Enterprise Foundation, "This House is Home" combines artful portraits of first-time homeowners with their personal stories about the meaning of home and what it took to finally own one. Their smiling, pensive faces line the white walls of the portable gallery, where Bamberger is beginning to install recent photos of local homeowners, most of whom live in affordable housing developments on the West Side. They hang alongside photos from a 1995 prototype study conducted in Chattanooga, Tennessee. When showing these older photos, Bamberger refers to each of his subjects by first and last name, recalling not only their stories, but also their gestures, the way they talked, their emotions, and their reactions - before a camera.

Ada, from the Guadalupe Home, chooses her favorite shots of herself and daughter Faith.

San Antonio's stories have not been collected yet; Bamberger and a team of interviewers will begin that process in the coming weeks. Excerpts from those interviews will eventually be displayed with the photos. One Chattanooga homeowner told of a dream about her future house chasing her, asking her to come inside. Another, pictured in his garden, talked about what he hoped to harvest that season. Right now, the San Antonio photos are a series of portraits, but as residents become more comfortable with Bamberger, he plans to capture their real living spaces - places like a plant-filled porch, a favorite lounging chair, a messy hallway, or a mantle crowded with family pictures.

The road to San Antonio involved transporting a three-piece set of gallery rooms, designed and built in North Carolina by Bamberger's colleague Gregory Snyder. Setting up shop took a bit longer than expected, but Bamberger gives much credit to the San Antonio Alternative Housing Corporation (SAAHC) for providing the project an open lot (appropriately located two blocks away from America's first Habitat for Humanity home) and introducing him to affordable housing neighborhoods and residents. The gallery will remain on Tampico Street through mid-August before rolling through Portland, Oregon, Eastern North Carolina, and South Dakota. "We wanted a geographic, cultural, and ethnic mix," says Bamberger about the choice of locations. "We wanted the project to reflect the diversity of this country, but also the different kinds of housing work being done."

Samantha and Joshua enjoy a day of swimming in Plaza Florencia, the main neighborhood researched for "This House is Home."

San Antonio's Latino population brings an obvious racial mix to the exhibit, but it also offers a new perspective and definition of home. When Bamberger asked one of his subjects to tell the story of her new home, she began weeping and talked about her "real" home in Mexico, which she still misses. He found that, for some residents, purchasing a home can involve a painful process of assimilation, learning a new language, and sometimes managing a home here as well as one across the border. "Here, the meaning of home is less of a structure and more of a tie to family, to neighborhood, to place."

"This House is Home" attempts to not only bring its concepts and art to each neighborhood it visits, but also to become a part of that community during its stay. Bamberger has been conducting a free photography workshop, while community outreach coordinator Sandra Lopez is offering free, weekly Tai Chi classes out on the gallery's deck. "People come in at all hours, asking if we can help them buy a home or fix a home, so we've become a clearinghouse for information," says Lopez.

The project has hosted a variety of events, including a "Watchale" outdoor movie night and a homeowners' class, conducted by the Avenida Guadalupe Association. Young artists from San Anto Cultural Arts were even invited to put up a graffiti mural on the gallery façade facing the street - their only instruction was to consider the meaning of home. While the work is still in progress, a few words are boldly visible: San Anto, Raza, and Love.

Noon-8pm Tuesday-Friday, 10am-2pm Saturday
Or by appointment Through Aug 4
1307 Tampico Street
(between Guadalupe and Laredo)
Call for more information on free classes and events

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