Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Faith in Sweet Auburn: The Next Chapter

Two years ago I began a journey down Auburn Avenue.  The street was at the brink of construction for the new Atlanta Streetcar. I committed myself back then to follow this story and to begin to build a relationship with the street and it’s people. I have worked at building this relationship by walking this street, day after day, talking to people, taking pictures and telling stories.  I have done this by trying to tell this evolving story while talking about my relationship to what is happening along Auburn Avenue.  I have never hid my hand.  I have always been up front.  My concern was African American history.  Through my blog, Flickr photo albums, Twitter, Vimeo and Youtube channels and Instagram I’ve tried to share this story.  The work has revolved around one key question: How will we remember as the street and the city moves forward?  Will the next chapter in the life of Sweet Auburn remember the former chapters?

This street was the bedrock of the African American community back in the day. King and Maynard Jackson were touched by this street. Martin L. King Jr. was raised on this street and now he rest on this street.  Maynard Jackson’s grandfather once ran this street as he modeled for Maynard how to run this city.  As millions come to Atlanta and journey down to the King Center and Ebenezer do they know they are walking a pass The Southern Christian Leadership, the Mason’s Lodge where John Wesley Dobbs once led, do they notice the bust of John Wesley Dobbs looking onto the street he named?  Do they know they are passing WERD Radio, The Atlanta Daily World, The Rucker Building, the financial kingdom that Alonzo Herndon built and do they stop at the Apex Museum?  Will the new streetcar take them pass history and ultimately lead to historical amnesia?  This work doesn’t answer these questions but it sure hopes to raise them and invite you in on the discussion.

As I approach my thesis exhibition I am eternally thankful to the faculty at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) who helped me see my way through this work.  They worked with me to make sure I led with the visual while not ignoring my love for writing.  They were the perfect faculty for me and I am thankful.  To my colleagues at who pushed me during critiques of the work as it developed, I learned so much from each of you.  To Mr. Dan Moore Sr. and the Apex Museum staff you have been so kind and supportive from day one and I am thankful.  I am honored to have my work on display at the Apex Museum.  My work comes out of the mission and vision of the Apex.  This had to be the first place I had a show and I am humbled to have my work hang on the walls of the Apex. Finally to my family who have supported me through this work.  Your encouragement and patience coupled with your love is what has sustained me during long hours of work.  Especially to my wife, Dr. Vanessa Watkins, without you this would’ve been impossible.  

The show is up and ready for you.  I invite you to come by and see the work:
Opening Reception: Friday, October 16, 2015 from 7:00 to 9:30 p.m. Drop in when you can and come by and take fifteen minutes to see the work and say hello.
Faith in Sweet Auburn: The Next Chapter
The Apex Museum 
135 Auburn Avenue NE
Atlanta, GA 30303
(404) 532-2739

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Women of Distinction: "I Remember Her in So Many Wonderful Ways": A Tribute to Mrs. Evelyn Gibson Lowery

On Monday, September 28, 2015 I was there to witness the dedication of a mural honoring Mrs. Evelyn Gibson Lowery.  It was truly a moving tribute.  Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery loved his wife and you could see it in his eyes.  His children and family that surrounded him were evidence of  who Mrs. Lowery was.  She was a first class lady who was a leader and giant of her time.  She not only led in the struggle but she also led at home.  Dr. Lowery said of his wife that according to her, her greatest accomplishment was raising her three daughters.  Raise them she did.  They are all outstanding women who reflect their parents and especially the grace and class of their mother.

As I witnessed the dedication of the mural I wondered if those who walked, rode and drove along Auburn Avenue will take time to remember?  Will they stop and read what is on the mural and Google Mrs. Lowery?  Will they take time to remember her?  I sure hope so because she is worthy of being remembered.   While we remember we should not that she yet lives through the continued work of the Joseph & Evelyn Lowery Institute.  She also lives in each of us as we continue to struggle for freedom justice and equality.  

What I saw was a beautiful moment that I hope we don’t let slip by.  What do I mean?  As I saw the Lowery family remember I asked myself who in my family do I need to make sure we remember?  What murals should be in our family photo albums that make sure that we don’t forget our ancestors?  The women and men whose blood runs through our veins, those who who  fought for us to enjoy the life we live today?  Whose name do you need to call?  When you call the name of an ancestor they yet live!  Who are you going to resurrect today?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Commitment to Becoming: Back in Stride Again

Cuba 2015
I am back at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) for the senior year of my MFA degree in photography.  I took this summer off  from SCAD, took pictures of my summer travels and made images of the ministry at our church.  It was fun and it was in this off period that I could appreciate what I am learning at SCAD and what I am becoming.  It is hard for me to claim this but I will: I am becoming a professional photographer.  Well what is a professional photographer? 
True professionals have purpose behind the work they create; whether a photographer is fulfilling an assignment or producing art, the intention is guiding the work. The work is deliberate, the craft is honed, and the results are delivered. This work cycle is repeated with passion and persistence.
When I review this definition it reflects how I see my work.  I have a clear purpose and I am always working to achieve that purpose in my work as I am moved by the visual world.  I found this summer as I was “taking pictures for fun” that I was purposeful in my work and I couldn’t help but produce art.  The work is deliberate as I continue to work on my craft by making work, reading and following the artist who inspire me.  This isn’t a haphazard process but rather it is a routine that has become a habit that is developing me into a professional artist.

I am convinced that the key to becoming that thing you want to become you have commit to a continuos cycle that takes your game to the next level.  At the core this is about having clear purpose, a commitment to professionalism, professional development, honing your skill and  continuing to produce work and share it with the world.  When we go this process something happens to us, in us and through us.  We become that which we dreamt of.

While I am still dreaming of completing my MFA I am committed to the process.  I am progressing as the process does what it is intended to do.  As you look at yourself the question I put to you is the following:  What is the process you are engaged in that is taking you and your work to the next level?  What is your course professional development  and what is the end intended to be? Can you see what you are becoming?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Photography of Koo Sung Soo: How Do We See The World

I am convinced that how we are shaped culturally influences what we shoot and how we frame the world.  While much our influences in the West have been that of white male photographers and as a result this has skewed how we appreciate photography produced by other cultures.   In my recent research I have sought to answer this burning question:  How does who we are from a cultural and ethnic perspective influence the images we create?  In my quest to answer this question I have expanded the photographer’s work I look at to go beyond that of the canon prescribed to us via western dominance and hegemony in the world of photography.  To this end I have found the work of Koo Sung Soo to be very refreshing and eye opening.

Koo Sung Soo was born in Seoul, Korea in 1970.  He creates large-scale photographs that have the canny ability to make see the familiar in new and interesting ways.  He has a creative edge to his framing and use of color.  He shoots with a large format 8” x 10” camera and I am sure this choice of camera influence how he shoots and what he shoots.  You can see that his images are well composed and thoughtful.  His use of color and light are exquisite.  The images present a tension that mesmerizes invites the viewer.  His work clearly has a deeper message than appears at first glance.  His work demands that you sit with it.   His images are thoughtful, visual strong and intriguing.  The compositions use light, symbols and color to create relationships that begs further reflection. 

You can see in Soo’s work the influences of his culture as he interrogates his culture like only he can.  His familiarity with his culture empowers him to see it in unique ways and his work exhibits this uniqueness.  What is your thing?  What do you bring to your work?  What makes your work stand out?  How does your cultural / socialization influence your work in a good way?  Are you conscious of how your cultural background frames what you see and what you shoot?

Friday, July 17, 2015

Reframing the Future: The Power and Purpose of Sabbatical

“I believe in living with the camera, and not using the camera.  Suddenly, if you are working a lot, it takes over and then you see meaning in everything.  You don’t have to push for it.  That’s what I mean by visual life.  Very rare.”
Dorothea Lange

I just finished a year long sabbatical.  I returned to the classroom at Columbia Theological Seminary this July and I realized how much I missed this place that I love.  I missed my colleagues and students more than words can say.   I return seeing the world differently after spending this past year working fulltime on my MFA in photography at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).

The faculty and my student colleagues at SCAD pushed me to live in the visual world.  For one year I was immersed in a world that demanded that I see and experience the world like I had never done.  My eyes were opened and I now see my world, the classroom and my teaching vocation in a totally different light.  It was through the viewfinder that I saw the world and myself in a new light.

I return to the classroom as an artist who teaches.  Teaching is not what I do but rather the classroom becomes a darkroom where light enters and we see what emerges from the developing process.  I come back to CTS and I am approaching my teaching as an art and my students and I are the artists. SCAD helped me own my calling as an artist.  I was forced to look inside and ask hard question about the stories I was called to tell through still images, video and my blog.  This was hard work but work well worth it.

I had never had the privilege in all my years of higher education to be able to focus fulltime on my studies and not also have fulltime job responsibilities. My sabbatical allowed me to focus fulltime on my work at SCAD and as I result I was transformed.  I also saw what an advantage it is for students to be able to commit fulltime to their schoolwork and not have to worry about how they are going to eat.

I return to Columbia Theological Seminary sharing what I have learned at SCAD.  I return to teach Evangelism, Photography and Social Media.  I have an energetic class who has jumped right in and they doing great work.  My sabbatical served to help me reframe my future at CTS and my work as a socio-theologian who is also a visual storyteller.  SCAD help me see the world and myself in new ways and I am eternally grateful to my professors who pushed me in each and every class. I will take what they taught me and share it with my students. 

What about you?  Where are you going at this phase in your life?  What is that thing or experience that has the possibility of helping you reframe your future?  As hard as the work has been at SCAD, and the party isn’t over yet, it was worth every minute.  What challenge awaits you with the promise of transformation?