With the temperature approaching the mid 90s, I’m reminded of childhood days spent in Locust Grove, GA. Getting off an air conditioned train the heat hit like a backhand slap. The Griers and the Watkins, my father’s and mother’s relatives, lived in and around “The Grove.” I mostly stayed with my father’s side–Uncle Jack, Aunt Zelma, and cousin Wymond. Their house was situated along a dusty red clay road. There was no air conditioning, no TV, no running water. We drew cold water from a well.
Uncle Jack worked in a factory; he also farmed an acre of cotton. My Aunt Zelma sewed plush animals at her day job and then prepared marvelous dinners from produce she grew and chickens she raised, killed, and plucked. Sunday afternoons brought homemade peach ice cream after hot church services at Shoal Creek Baptist.
Relatives on my mother’s side were of the same resourceful bent. They raised their families under the difficult conditions prevalent in the South of the late 50s. They ran small farms and built their own homes.
I write all of this because after the panel discussion, the final public event of White People: A Retrospective, I was approached by a young lady who asked why I included hicks in the exhibit. She was referring to the photograph that accompanies this post. I never–ever–met a person I considered a “hick.” I met and photographed people who lived under different circumstances than I did. In many cases they were resourceful men and women who did what was required to survive. Hicks, they were not.
Sometimes that picture that is worth a thousand words comes up a few words short. I’ve always enjoyed working with writers who I felt captured the event we covered together. One of the early influences in my career path was a book by the photographer Richard Avedon and the writer James Baldwin, I felt that Nothing Personal was the perfect marriage of words and photographs.
At The Cincinnati Post it was my pleasure to work with some very great writers. They had the ability to capture the essence of the assignment with words and at the same time did not get in the way of the photographer. This was not always the case.
When I first thought of doing White People:A Retrospective I contacted local writer Kathy Y. Wilson. I first became aware of her through her column Your Negro Tour Guide in City Beat. Eventually we worked together on a piece for Cincinnati Magazine on homicides entitled Unfinished Lives. When I told Kathy about my idea she immediately signed on. She created “Ghosts In the Machine”, a”suite” of three pieces that are provocative and create discussion.
Working with Terrence Hammonds Kathy artfully installed her suite on the Sun Porch of the Kennedy Heights Arts Center.
There are 60 photographs in the exhibit White People: A Retrospective at Kennedy Heights Arts Center. With the exception of one photograph, all the prints are digital. All of the black and white photographs were shot on film. The color photographs were made with digital cameras. The Cincinnati Post supplied its staff photographers with Nikon cameras and lenses. At the original location at 800 Broadway we each had a private darkroom. We rarely shot color. When we moved our operation to 125 East Court we shared a large common darkroom. It was at our new location that we began the transition from black and white to color. First we shot color film, mostly Fuji. The film was processed in house and each photographer made their respective prints. We then went digital with the Nikon D1. To me the camera is a tool that gets me to a end result. Be it digital or film, my goal is to make photographs that have impact.
I don’t spend a lot of time discussing the technical side of photography, but for those of you who are interested: I used mostly Tri-X film, sometimes pushed one or two stops until the coming of the T-Max films. When we converted to color film, I really loved the Fujicolor films, especially the 800 speed. For the exhibit, film was scanned with a Nikon Coolpix V scanner. Prints were made with a Epson 2200 on Ilford paper.
Saturday April 30 arrived sunny and bright, a respite in what had been a very rainy Spring.At least the weather should not be a factor for attendance for the opening of White People:A Retrospective. I can think back to a time when I was part of a group of artists who would come together to show work only to have very few people show up to look. I guess I can say I’ve come a long way since those days.
I’m gratified and humbled by the amount of people who came to the Kennedy Heights Arts Center this past Saturday. I thank Executive Director Ellen Muse- Lindeman for her support and making Kennedy Heights Arts Center available to me. Thank you Tom Schiff, and Scripps Howard Foundation for your financial support. My friend Jymi Bolden came on board early as Guest Curator. Even earlier Kathy Y Wilson agreed to create text, and working with Terrence Hammonds created a thought provoking, three part suite in the Sun Porch. Eric Bartels installed the photographs and signage in the gallery with creative care and sensitivity.
My daughter Samantha along with Donna Marsh helped me get the word out via social media. Samantha also set me up with this blog and created a poster. My son Miles was a constant source of ideas and an invaluable sounding board. My wife Brenda was the anchor of encouragement that she has always been.
Thank you Ryan Ostrander for creating the invitation. And thanks to all of you who came out Saturday, and that will come see White People:A Retrospective. I invite you to be at Kennedy Heights Arts Center this Saturday,May 7, for my Gallery Talk at 2 pm.
With all the hoopla surrounding the Royal Wedding I can’t help but recall the two years I spent in England. I was a medic in the USAF and was stationed at RAF Mildenhall, not too long a train ride from London. I worked in the 48th TAC Fighter Wing Hospital, assigned to the obstetrical unit.
England was a great relief after training at Gunter AFB outside Montgomery Alabama. The base commander welcomed us with a speech noting that the locals had certain “customs” that he didn’t agree with, but as their guests we should abide. When several of us black airmen went downtown we learned of their custom of a segregated bus stop.
Anyway when I got to England I was merely a “Yank” and treated fairly, which brings me to Victor Cresswell. Mr. Cresswell ran the Photo Hobby Shop on the base and was very encouraging as I took my first baby steps in photography. He gave me some basic direction in processing film and making prints. Since I was at an APO address I could get camera and lenses cheaper. I first bought a Pentax with 35 mm and 200 mm lenses. I put them to use at the usual tourist destinations of Buckingham Palace and Tower of London etc.
At this point I would also like to thank the two hobby shop regulars who laughed at me and my neophyte approach to photography. It was at that point that I decided to devote myself to be the best I could be.
Somewhere in the archives of the newspaper Stars and Stripes there is photograph by Airman Melvin Grier, it won first place in the Armed Forces Europe Photo Contest. Thank You, Mr. Cresswell.
When you entered the lobby of 800 Broadway you immediately sensed it was not just another office tower on the fringe of downtown Cincinnati. If you missed some of the architectural details that said newspapering took place here, the odor of printing ink would surely declare the building’s purpose.
On my first morning of work after being greeted by my boss, Jack Klumpe, and introduced to what ever staff photographers that were present, I was in my darkroom when at approximately 10 am the presses started rolling and the floor under my feet vibrated. It was an exciting moment. Now all I had to do was produce work worthy enough to be printed in The Cincinnati Post.
As I recall, the first news event the paper sent me on was a water main break on West 8th Street, on the approach to the viaduct. The resulting picture certainly didn’t move me into the company of Gordon Parks or W. Eugene Smith, but the picture had my credit line. At least for the time being I had arrived.
The camera is a tool. The hammer is a tool. I’m more proficient with the camera. As I mentioned in an earlier post we loaded our own cassettes from bulk rolls of film at The Post. If you were unlucky enough to drop a cassette it might pop open. The first time I did this I almost panicked because I had just shot something. Fortunately only a few frames were fogged. With film there wasn’t the instant gratification that today’s digital photography provides. While shooting you might feel that you were doing good but you had to wait until the film was processed to see just how good you did. Sometimes not so good. Then the print was made. Each photographer had their own printing style, and I could tell you what photographer on our staff had shot whatever photograph by just looking at the print. No Photoshop. Just some SpotTone for dust spots on the print.
The Post supplied our equipment. Opening those gold colored Nikon boxes was like Christmas and a birthday rolled into one. The process of going from film to digital took some adjustment but ultimately it’s always about the photograph.