Jake Reinhart and his wife, Julie, live in a house in Pittsburgh that her grandfather built. It’s in the same neighborhood their parents grew up in. Both of them have family buried in the cemetery down the street.
That history resonated with Reinhart. “I started thinking of this sense of deep roots that go on for generations and just trying to make sense of it, this sense of belonging,” he said.
He decided to explore photographically his own sense of home and, on a wider scale, how the people and landscape of Pittsburgh have evolved over the years. The images he made are part of the series “Homespun.”
Reinhart’s influences range from some of Pittsburgh’s most famous photographers, including Walker Evans, Eugene Smith, and LaToya Ruby Frazier, and he thought of them and their experiences as he began to explore their shared hometown.
“I was already familiar with the fact that this is a topic that has been out there and discussed and presented a number of times, so I wanted to think about the history of Pittsburgh, not just the history in terms of the steel mill, but for generations of people who have lived here and what this region represented,” he said.
He also considered the influence of the French and Indian War, the ways in which the three rivers have segregated the landscape and the city’s various communities, how as industries—from timber to fur to steel and coal—have gone from boom to bust, and what kept people living there.
“When you look at this over and over again, something grows and rises up and then nature comes back in and takes it over,” he said. “Whether when the steel industry is dismantled and collapsed and you have these beautiful landscapes of nature reclaiming the land that has always been hers—I started thinking of that as a metaphor: What is success and failure?”
Reinhart said he also wanted to make images counter to the stereotypes many people have about Pittsburgh: that it’s a rundown, dying Rust Belt city. He said there are definitely things that need to be improved in the region, but that’s also true for many parts of the United States. “To me [the reputation] seemed so derelict, but that’s not what I was seeing or experiencing,” he said.
“I wanted to challenge the stereotypes,” he said. “Maybe not challenge, but make sense as to why people from this area are so proud of the area. How can I articulate it or justify or explain to someone who isn’t from here?”
Reinhart includes one image he took of his nephew standing in the doorway of his house. For him, that image is in many ways representative of the entire project: a mix between an old house and a young man and whether the house is confining or comforting him.
“Am I limiting my experiences to grow by staying here, or am I celebrating the good aspects by staying here?” he asked.