Monroe and Sweet, who were both born in the 1950s, grew up in that tranquil environment, surrounded by a strong Jewish community. After they graduated from the MFA program at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1977, they moved back home to Miami and agreed to photograph their city and its quirky inhabitants every day for 10 years. Many of their subsequent pictures feature porch-sitters and subjects lounging in deck chairs—a sense of communal ease prevails. “We saw something that I later realized was a precious legacy that was being forgotten, that was vanishing,” Monroe says in the film. Though the senior citizens were vivacious, they were also approaching death.
Despite their shared subject matter, Monroe and Sweet distinguished themselves with their divergent styles. Monroe was concerned with form and composition, and his black-and-white pictures are somber, even when the content is not. Sixth Street—South Beach, Florida (1978), for example, features three women and a man walking along a sidewalk. Two of them wheel carts, while one holds an umbrella above her head to shield herself from the sun. The camera seems more interested in symmetry and the contrast of light and shadow than in the individuals themselves.
On the other hand, Sweet’s more casual images prioritized character, like in his portrait of an elderly woman with curly, orange hair wearing a “Happy New Year” headband. (The pair visited multiple hotels on New Year’s Eve, catching their elderly subjects celebrating the passage of time.) Yellow and red leis crisscross the woman’s shoulders, and she holds a half-full plastic cup in her hand, her festive get-up belying her tired expression: She’s partied too much for one night. Illuminated by Sweet’s flash in a darkened room, she appears nearly angelic. These contrasts contribute to the gentle humor that infuses the photograph, and much of Sweet’s oeuvre.