Monday, February 9, 2015

Remembering How Gordon Parks Saw The World: Can You See What He Saw?

My wife, Vanessa and I, went to the High Museum this past Saturday to take in the Gordon Parks exhibit one more time. I can’t get enough of his work.  What inspires me about Gordon Parks is that he saw the world like no other photographer.  He had a unique vision inspired by what W. E. B. DuBois would call a “double consciousness.” Parks had to understand the world his employers saw and then shoot what he saw and work between the lines to get his work published.

I am convinced that African American photographers, coming from a minority culture, see the world differently than their dominant culture counterparts.  The reason so many African American photographers work doesn’t get the praise their white colleagues get is that those defining the medium and passing out praise don’t see as African Americans see. 

Gordon Parks way of seeing was not only exhibited in his photos but also in his music, his writings and his motion pictures.  He stands head and shoulders above any of his contemporaries.  Not only does his photography stand above that of his colleagues but Parks created art in multiple forms that his colleagues couldn’t even dream of, then or now.

The African American artist can do more and still be seen less.  I don’t know if those from the dominant culture can comprehend or see how minorities see?  I don’t know if one can fully understand what one has not sought to appreciate?  When we refer to the masters of photography you very rarely if ever hear the names of the great African American photographers, women or persons from the two-thirds world.  We are still worshiping at the altar of white male photographers.  If we worship them is this a form of idolatry?

Can you see the work of the modern day African American artist if you don’t understand the roots of his or her work?  If you don’t appreciate the work of his or her ancestors and historic influences how can you fully appreciate what African American artist are creating today?

To: Dr. Gordon Parks:
I just want to say thank you for letting us see the world as you saw it.  Your work continues to inspire so many of us to see as we see and to dare to tell our story.  Every time I see your work I am inspired to go out and shoot, make a video, tell a story and dare to share it the way I see it.  I celebrate you yet again! 

Does American education fully celebrate and incorporate the contributions of those who aren’t members of the privileged dominant culture?  Are the arts as racist as the rest of America?  Are artists being taught to be disconnected from their cultural heritage? 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

If You Don’t Know Your History You Want Know What’s Next in The Struggle

Nasir Muhammad - Historian teaching on Sweet Auburn Avenue, Atlanta GA.
This past weekend, at the start of the Dr. Martin L. King Jr. Weekend, Vanessa and I went on a walking tour of Sweet Auburn Avenue here in Atlanta. Mr. Nasir Muhamad and Black Mecca Tours of the South led the tour. While I have studied this street and its history for the past four years I learned so much from Nasir.  He had information that simply amazed me.  I realize that you can always learn something no matter how much you think you know!

There is rich history in your community.  It is up to us to learn about the towns / cities we find ourselves living.  Many of us live in cities and we take their rich history for granted.  Tourists come in and they take advantage of our cities attractions, history and tours. I encourage you to learn more about your city.  Go to your history center, take a local tour, connect with local historians, pay attention to historical markers and stop and read them.  Find that book(s) that chronicles the history of your city and take time to read it.

If we don’t know the history of our city we will not fully understand the legacy we stand upon and how we are a part of the larger story. We are called to these cities to continue the struggles we inherited. Our ancestor began the fight; we are to continue the fight while preparing the next generation to take on the fight.  As much as Atlanta is a city where African Americans have done well we still have a long way to go. The class divide and the continuing legacy of racism, sexism, classism and discrimination against the LGTBQ community is still with us.  When we learn about those foot soldiers in our community who fought before us their spirit will guide us as to what is next.  I have met historians like Mr. Dan Moore of the Apex Museum, Dr. Karcheik Sims-Alvarado – The Historian in Heels,  Nasir Muhammad of Black Mecca Tours of the South and Roger Pennyman of Atlanta Specialty Tours and they all have become my teachers.  Who is teaching you about the history of your city and what is next in our battle for liberation?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Promise of the Streetcar: Deliver(ed)?

On December 30, 2014 the new Atlanta Streetcar was delivered.  Bow, ribbons and promises was the order of the day. Mayor Kasim Reed proclaimed that this project will bring investment to a part of the city that has long been neglected.  We cheered, we fought to ride on that first day and I took pictures and wondered.  I wonder what the future holds for Auburn Avenue as the street car debuts?  What does this mean for this street that is a repository of African American history? Will the promised investment be realized? If the promised investment is realized what does it mean for the previous investment of blood, sweat, tears and struggle of the African Americans who came before those who are promised to arrive in the coming years?
At the heart of my wonderment was how will we remember?  How will the stories of this street be kept alive?  Will we remember the Southern Christian Leadership Council, The Butler YMCA, WERD Radio, the great houses of worship as they were back in the day, the work and legacy of John Wesley Dobbs, Alonzo Herndon and so many others?  Will their names be called, will their stories be told or will they become paved over in the coming economic revival that the Mayor has promised?  I wonder, watch and I will continue to track this story and I invite you to follow me as I follow the future while calling us to remember the past!

For more images from the grand opening:
Images from the grand opening:

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Selma: A Moving Tribute

I couldn’t wait to see the movie Selma and when I saw it I was not disappointed.   The story was well written and the characters well developed.  The movie was moving.  I found myself crying at various points in the movie as I was moved by the commitment and sacrifice of those who were apart of the movement.   Ava DuVernay did a great job directing and she definitely deserves an award for a job well done!

It is hard to do a period piece like this when so many of the characters are so well known.  The actors were superb across the board.  David Oyelowo pulls off Martin L. King Jr..  I was doubting if he or anyone could live up to playing Dr. King but he does.  His character is very convincing.  Oprah’s brings Anna Lee Cooper to life as the movie shows the leadership roll so many women played in the movement.  

Bayard Rustin is highlighted in the movie and I was pleased to see this.  His leadership is understated in many of the history books but in this movie his brilliance as a leader shines through.  I was very pleased to see that the writer, Paul Webb, did such a good job being true to the story of the struggle.   The movie doesn’t take liberties with history and turn it into fiction.  

In the end we sat in this movie and we cried, clapped, cheered and felt what so many sacrificed for the soul of this country.  You see the brilliance of the leaders and the plan they had to make a difference.  The characters were made human in the movie, they were just regular people who were committed making America a more just place.  This movie called me to continue the struggle.  The movement is not over.  We have battles to fight and this movie called me to continue the struggle.  Will you go see the movie and continue the struggle?  What do we owe those who fought so hard for us to enjoy the rights we enjoy today?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What does your future hold? Creating the future you desire!

@Ralph Basui Watkins - December 16, 2014
For the past two years I have been tracking the changes along Auburn Avenue here in Atlanta.  It has been interesting seeing the coming of the new Atlanta Streetcar that promises to reconnect Auburn Avenue with downtown Atlanta.  The street is starting to change, while the change is slow, it is noticeable. 

@Ralph Basui Watkins - October 21, 2013 - Streetcar Construction

What I have learned, among many things about change is that it is slow and the change agent must persevere, be persistent and patient.  While ads promise us change with no work and overnight that is not how lasting change occurs.

As I process the change happening along Auburn Avenue I ask what will remain, what should remain?  What must Auburn Avenue hang onto if it is to be the “The Historic District”?  Is there a natural tension between progress and history?  Can progress embrace the past in way that is respectful and tactful?  Will the progress we make forget from whence we have come and who has helped us get to the place we presently find ourselves?
Ralph Basui Watkins - December 12, 2014

As we end this year and we begin to plan for next year who is it that you are trying to become?  What are those things in your life that you want to change?  Who are those people or institutions that you have to redefine the relationship if the change you want is going to occur? How will you embrace and develop your future in conversation and relationship with your pass?  When all is said and done change and progress have to be planned endeavors.   What are your plans for your tomorrow? 
@Ralph Basui Watkins - December 12, 2014

@Ralph Basui Watkins - September 25, 2013