Jen Kinney's "City Under One Roof"

August 09, 2014

Supported by a grant from the Alaska Humanities Forum and by the Dorthea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize through the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, Jen Kinney’s “City Under One Roof” is a documentary project on Whittier, Alaska: a town of 200 residents and only accessible through a 2.6 mile long tunnel that closes at night.


Jen Kinney's words about this project:

"The entrance to Whittier, Alaska is a 2.6-mile tunnel, a gaping maw in the mountainside. It bares its teeth twice an hour, allowing cars in to Whittier or out, inhaling them on one side of the mountain and exhaling on the other. At night it closes, leaving the town isolated from the rest of the world until morning.

Within the mountains that encircle the town is another enclosure: Begich Towers, a 14–story condominium that houses the majority of Whittier’s 200 residents. It is a vertical town, with walls so thin the missionary can listen in on the bartender next door. “A lot of people don’t stay here because they think it feels like prison,” said Terry Bender, resident of Begich Towers. “I just laugh. I tell everybody, ‘We all live in the same house, we just have separate bedrooms.’”

These photographs are part of an ongoing project, just as Whittier’s story continues to evolve. Despite its challenges to access and potentially claustrophobic living quarters, it is home to people who have made their way from across the world and built lives here. Indeed many long-term residents speak longingly for the days when only the railroad connected the town to Anchorage, the nearest city. In those days, Whittier’s main attraction was solitude. In dead of winter, blanketed in snow and harrowed by wind, it still is. From its origins as a military port of great strategic importance to a near ghost town; from its revival in the 1970s by a group of entrepreneurs and renegades to its present-day struggles for growth and expansion, I have been chronicling the transformation of the town, its infrastructure, and its tall-tales."