A 2019 photo by Emily Najera.

“I have to photograph. I do it all the time,” Emily Najera said. “I’ll wake up, and I’ll say the light is right. And then I’ll go.”

Najera, an artist originally from metro Detroit, has been this way ever since her mother bought her first camera for her when she was 13.

Early in her teens, Najera started photographing architecture. In high school and college, she became interested in documenting gentrification. She was inspired by photographers like Berenice Abbott, who photographed the shifting landscape of New York in the 1930s, and Walker Evans, who photographed storefronts during the Great Depression.

“It’s mainly photographers who are photographing the everyday landscape, and they’re really looking for beauty in the everyday,” Najera said. “(It’s) the places that we just tend to drive past, and maybe we don’t even visually engage with that often, but those are the types of places that I find inspiring.”

When Najera was in graduate school at the University of Nevada, Reno, photography Prof. Peter Goin was her mentor. She said his black-and-white photographs of San Francisco architecture inspired her and kept her thinking about gentrification.

“Just watching the evolution of the places, and really thinking about the people who have interacted within those places over time, is what attracts me to those types of environments,” Najera said. “And then the thought that they could disappear and be gone forever. … Once they are gone, the only evidence exists in people’s memories and then through the photographs of those places.”

Najera has photographed gentrification in cities like Reno and Grand Rapids, Mich., always aiming to capture the everyday places before they change.

“I really, truly, photograph them for myself,” she said. “… I just want to document them, because I know that they’re changing.”

In addition to her art practice, Najera has done freelance photo work for The New York Times, NPR and ProPublica. She’s photographed a wide range of subjects, including gentrification, portraits and more.

“You have to be a really good listener when you’re photographing people for these stories, and be really willing to collaborate, too, because you’re working with so many people,” Najera said. “But you also have to stay true to yourself and your vision, which I think is so important to me, anyway.”

Najera’s upcoming exhibition, In This Place, which will be on display at the Oats Park Art Center in Fallon, includes more than a decade’s worth of Reno architecture photos—images of houses, small businesses, storefronts and hotels in downtown and Midtown. Taken together, these images clearly portray the push and pull between historic preservation and economic expansion.

A 2011 photo by Emily Najera.

“I just want them to see this visual timeline over the past decade,” Najera said. “I’m tracking time through my photographs, and that’s really what the exhibition is about. … It’s looking at this timeline of Reno, a timeline of places, and how they’ve changed, how some of them have stayed the same, how some of them are completely gone. And it just really gives you an archive of place … an archive of Reno.”

Najera explained that the goal with this “archive of Reno” is to give people a feeling of a sense of place.

“It’s an ongoing project,” she said. “I don’t really ever see it ending. It’s kind of who I am. My art is truly about my love of Reno. … And I hope when people look at my photographs, they can feel how connected I am to the places I photograph.”

Emily Najera’s exhibition In This Place—Photographs of Reno will be on view from Saturday, March 11, through Saturday, June 17, at the Oats Park Art Center, 151 E. Park St., in Fallon. A reception and artist talk are scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m., Saturday, May 6. For more information, visit www.churchillarts.org. See more of Najera’s work at www.emilynajera.com.

This article was produced by Double Scoop, Nevada’s visual arts publication. Read more at www.doublescoop.art.

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