Artist Statement

This project is my attempt to highlight a revolution whose importance is not broadly understood by a world that relies heavily upon the fruits of its labor.

It’s about the awesome responsibility of creating and maintaining technologies so critical that they now underpin the technical fabric of our lives. It’s about recognizing, when it comes to technology, that we stand on the shoulders of giants and the efforts of those that came before us. And most importantly, it’s about the people behind the bizarre project names and abbreviations who thankfully believe their technical contributions should be freely shared with the world and not locked up behind the cash register.

The project has been a pilgrimage of sorts for me. It really began in 1991, when I connected my first computer to the Internet. At the time, I was attending one of the first colleges in the country to wire its dormitories with network connections. Having a network jack in my room meant that I could access the Internet whenever I wanted.

I quickly became immersed in the net’s various protocols as well as its world of command lines and oddly named programs such as Pine, Gopher, and finger. I learned my way around a Unix system, trying every clever shell command I could glean from staff at the college’s computer center. The secrets of the net kept unfolding before me as I eventually learned how to browse FTP sites for free software, read newsgroups, and log into computers at university libraries around the world. I also learned how to send my first email — an anxious two line masterpiece that read: “Did this work? Write me back!”

When the Mosaic web browser was first released in 1993, I created one of the first websites and online webzines. It was then that I learned about the BSD operating system, which someone told me I should use to setup my web server. When I wanted to add a contact form to my website, I discovered Perl.

Eventually, I graduated from college and began work at an ad agency developing the first websites for major corporations around the world. It was there that I started using the Apache web server and learned how to program in a new language called PHP.

Having become somewhat of an expert at this “Internet thing”, I left Madison Avenue behind to start my own company. That was when I first heard of Linux. I later moved to Silicon Valley and, while working at various companies, further expanded my use of open source software to include Lucene for search, mysql for databases, Postfix for email, and Python for system programming.

Seeing the transformative effect that open source software had on my various ventures, I wanted to give back to the community. I began by contributing bug fixes and eventually started a few projects of my own. That was when I began to get curious about the history of free and open source software. Many years later, that curiosity lead me to start this project.

In creating these portraits, I am interested in documenting the people behind the software code. I’m interested in the pioneers that paved the way for the open source revolution as well as those that support its existence today. I’m interested in the unsung heroes whose contributions are critical, but for whatever reason, never made it into the historical narrative. I’m interested in knowing the people who gave life to those funny named software programs I learned about all those years ago.

These interests and my own journey with open source have fueled this photographic project over the last three years.

Many of the photographs that make up Faces of Open Source were shot at my home studio in Silicon Valley. Others were made in various locations, conference rooms, and backyards across the USA.

Like many other photographers before me, I use a white background to suspend each subject in time and space. I believe that once the environment has been stripped away, the viewer is left with the most unobstructed view of the subject’s singularity. I use a similar style for all of the portraits in order to reinforce the history shared by this unique group of people.

Each portrait is a collaboration between myself and the sitter. Throughout the sitting we silently negotiate what is to be revealed and what shall remain hidden. My goal is to get beyond their practiced facade. I study unconscious expressions, subtle movements, and mannerisms hoping for a glimpse of their true essence. Then I release the camera’s shutter before it slips away.

Peter Adams