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

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Rage or Revolution: What is really going on?

@Ralph Basui Watkins
“The camera loves the black subject whose struggle for equality represent the possibilities of American democracy.”
Nicole R. Fleetwood
Troubling Vision: Performance, Visuality, and Blackness

Can we believe what we see? The images of protest all over our screens.  From the television, to the tablet to the cell phone, be it on Twitter, Instagram or YouTube…we are seeing mass protest.  The images project a groundswell of revolutionary activity and a demand for justice but are the images a message or a movement?  Do the images speak of promise or reality? Are the images lying to us?  Are we being lulled to sleep by what we see as a promise of what can be but has yet to be realized?
@Ralph Basui Watkins

The quote from Nicole Fleetwood is what sparked this blog.  I am reading her book this week and she pushes me to reflect on America’s fetish with black images of protest as a fulfillment of the promise upon which they are calling America to realize.  The image of protest becomes the icon upon that makes us think something is happening. We begin to worship the image of protest while not asking the more serious question: what are the real results of the protest as it relates to fundamental change in an oppressive institutionalized system?
@Ralph Basui Watkins
As I sat in Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta last week I pondered what was really happening here?  Eric Holder was present along with local leaders, politicians and young leaders of the next movement.  There was an obvious generational divide in the room and in the end the young adults and their leader marched out. I followed them, took pictures, shoot video, posted it and felt like something happened that night and it did but what?  What is next?  What will change?  Weeks after the mass meeting African Americans are still being shoot by police, murderous police officer are not being indicted and the images of protest continue to fill our newsfeed.  What is really going on?
@Ralph Basui Watkins

At the meeting at Ebenezer the esteemed Rev. C. T. Vivian said, “We had a method.  That is why we won.  We had a method.” We have to have a method that engages the powers that maintain and support systems of oppression and dismantle the systems they have nurtured and supported over the years.  This is a process of dismantling a structure of oppression.  So while we post images, have protest and shout from the roof tops let us not forget to sit, think, strategize and make real lasting change that takes the chains off of our people.  What are you willing to sacrifice for change?  What is the promise in your protest that makes the environment you live in freer?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Up Your Game or Become Irrelevant

Gordon Parks - an example of one who always saw and prepared for the future of his field. 
The world is changing rapidly.  The one thing that is certain is change.  The days of the secure job, the tenured positions are things of the past.  The key for anyone in the workforce today is to learn how to live in this world of change and navigate the ever-changing terrain of your chosen career field.

The key here is doing what you love and continuing to make yourself a leader in your field.  To be a leader in your field is not based on what or how a leader is defined in the field today but rather how will leader be defined tomorrow.  Leaders for tomorrow will be misunderstood today because those at the top will judge you based on the rules for today because in many cases they don’t realize that the rules have changed.

You have to recognize that the rules have changed and this takes vision.  You must see what’s next and be prepared for it when it comes.  To see what is next you have to live in the future while surviving in the present.  This means you must be good at playing the game as it is played today while simultaneously preparing yourself for the game as it will be played tomorrow.

To play and prepare means you are going to have to do two things at once. You are going to have work while you play.  To work while you play in essence is to do the task as they come at you today and then enjoy the process of preparation for what’s next.  It is this preparation that must be fun for you.  If you don’t enjoy the process of becoming you probably will not enjoy what it is you are preparing to do.  

Do you se the future in your field?  Are you ahead of the game or you playing a game that is dead, dying and changing?  How do you judge your preparation for the future while excelling in the present? What are you doing on the daily to prepare you for tomorrow?
To learn more about Mr. Parks I recommend the book and documentary "Half Past Autumn"

The Documentary

Friday, November 21, 2014

Do You See You? The Revolutionary Artist!

“You should be able to look at me and see my work.  You should be able to look at my work and see me.”
Roy DeCarava
Thru Black Eyes

In sociology we have something we call reference groups.  Reference groups are those groups of people you look up to and aspire to become.  As a budding photographer I have found it so important to find those photographers whose work can inspire and inform my work.  What I’ve found in my studies, just like in my former academic journeys, there are few African Americans put in front of us in the classroom.

When the roll of great photographers are called they very rarely look like me or see as I do. The eye of the photographer is focused via his or her socialization.  The background from which one comes informs how he or she views the world through the view finder.  Moreover when the world of photography has primarily been defined by the eyes of those who don’t look like and don’t see as I see then the question becomes how is the work of the African American photographers viewed in a world that is defined by the “masters”?

When I think of the roll call that is laid out in photography programs we get all the usual suspects. The Life  magazine photographers and the  Magnum photographers and VII are the names we here.  But if I were to call the names:
The Kamoinge Workshop
Louis Draper
Thomas Askew
Jim Alexander
Albert Fennar
Moneta Sleet
Michael Cheers
Vandell Cobb
Kenneth Coleman
Lacey Crawford
Todd Duncan
Bill Gillohm
Bob Johnson
Herbert Randall
John Shearer
Ozar Muhamad
G. Marshall Wilson
Just to name a few….the room would go silent. These names aren’t called.  The work of these photographers is not on the contact sheet of important photographers.  How do I see the group I want to be part of when the group isn’t presented to me in the classroom?  As an African American who holds a camera and views the world through the viewfinder how do I connect with those who have been socialized as I have, especially those, who like me, considers themselves activist photographers?  When the work of those who look like me and see like me have been ignored by the institutions that shape photographers the question becomes how are these institutions teaching me to see and can I see myself and my work in a world that doesn’t see those who came before me?

The answer to my dilemma is it is up to me, it is up to you to find your group.  Your group is that group of artist, thinkers, game changers that you want to be part of and you have to study them. Follow them and find out how you might become part of that group.  Don’t wait for or expect others to show you the road to artistic freedom and expression.  It is your responsibility to find yourself.
Required Reading - Not Assigned - This is my reading list over the winter break.
Let me be clear this is not a personal attack but rather an institutional critique.  This is not about the teachers in the classroom but rather I am talking about how institutions systemically embrace, nurture and support systems of oppression. Masters aren’t trained to nurture revolutionaries.  Masters are trained to break revolutionaries. Institutions that award you master degrees aren’t preparing you to become a master but rather to submit to the master. You have to reflect on Audre Lorde question:  “Can we use the masters tools to dismantle the master’s house.”  The master will never give you the tools for freedom.  The tools to secure your freedom is constructed in the heart, mind and eye of the revolutionary artist.  Go find your group and in-turn you will find yourself and create revolutionary art.  Where are you looking?  What are you seeing?  What are you creating?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Don’t Wait On Others To Tell You How Good You Are – Tell yourself and do the WORK!

Coretta Scott King at the funeral for Martin Luther King, Jr.  -  On May 5, 1969,  Photographer,  Moneta J. Sleet Jr. won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for Photography for this image of Coretta Scott King at her husband’s funeral. Wearing a black veil and looking stoic, Mrs.  King holds her daughter who is slumped over her mother’s lap.  It’s said to be one of the most graceful images of the Civil Rights Movement.
Photographer, Moneta J. Sleet Jr. 1969 Pulitzer Prize winning image.

Who was Moneta Sleet?  Moneta  J. Sleet Jr. was the first African American to win Pulitzer Prize Feature Award in 1969 for the image we all know but many didn’t know who took it.  Mr. Sleet was deeply involved in the Civil Rights Movement and his covering of The Movement wasn’t an assignment but rather he was an activist.  He said, “I wasn’t there as an objective reporter….I had something to say.”

The story goes something like this.  As they were clearing the press core to cover the funeral of Dr. Martin L. King Jr., word got back to Mrs. Coretta Scott King that there were no African American journalists covering her husband’s funeral.  She sends word: If Moneta Sleet is not allowed into the church, there will be no photographers.”

In 1955 Sleet became a staff photographer for Ebony magazine.  It is interesting to me how the photographers for Life magazine are celebrated as masters in the field while the Ebony photographers are seldom if ever mentioned.  We know the names of the great Life photographers and they are standards in our field but not the Ebony photographers.  Why is that? 

Sleet covered our struggle as one who felt the pictures he was taking.  I have concluded that is difficult for people who don’t understand or appreciate you and your people’s contribution to then affirm you or see what you bring to the table.  This is why it is so hard to get organizations to see the asset in diversity.  They don’t realize the power of what different people bring to the table.  The masters still by and large overlook African Americans, women, ethnic minorities and persons of LGTBQ community.  The masters are still telling us who the masters are in our field and we are trying to be like them and the reality is we will never be them.
@Moneta Sleet Jr. 

While Moneta Sleet won the Pulitzer the real key to this story is that Mrs. King recognized his giftedness before he won. She knew he would be the one who would take the image we could feel.  She saw the gift before the world recognized it.  We have to look for our affirmation from those who love us, understand us and truly appreciate our work and us.  In too many instances we are looking for affirmation from those who may never recognize us. They can’t see what you see because they are looking through a different lens.  We see through a lens darkly and our images are those that Sleet sees.  Who are you looking to for affirmation?  How do you serve your community and stay in-touch with your people so that they can affirm what the creator has put in you and what you create?

To order the book:
Order the Book

To buy prints:
Buy Prints

To see more of Mr. Sleet's work see the link below:

To see the work of more Ebony photographers:
The Work of Ebony Photographers