"The Spirit informs my daily living."
October 19, 2004

Luan Gaines "luansos"
Dana Point, CA USA

Drawn to the powerful images of the Civil Rights Era, photographer Chester Higgins, Jr. had his own story to tell, one of positive change in the African-American community. While others photographed the great culture clash of the Civil Rights Movement, Higgins saw events from another perspective, images of triumph, joy and appreciation of a rich and varied culture. Alongside the violence and rage of the Movement, he portrayed the courage behind these efforts, the importance of family and a community commitment to the future of the next generation.

Echo of the Spirit is a series of black and white photographs that are sensitively rendered by the author/photographer, his shared reflections adding to the rhythmic narrative. Higgins defines his personal journey in two parts: first, "Within the Blood", a retrospective from childhood that speaks to the cultural values of family and personal memories; and second, "Water of Change", the author's adult perspective, traveling through Africa, emphasizing the life-changing awareness of ancestry, his role as a citizen of the world.

As a child preacher in Alabama, Higgins spoke his own spiritual language, his love of God evident in page after page of photographs, each enhanced by the intimate perspective of one man's role in a rapidly changing world. Higgins' prose is haunting, poetic, sharing his love of family through the stories he heard since childhood, surrounded by loving relatives. A guiding Spirit is elementary in Higgins' life. Although he ignored his calling for a few years, spirituality hovered nearby, waiting patiently for a reawakening. Through his art, these incredibly powerful photographs, Higgins "had become a different kind of evangelist on another kind of crusade."

The chapters that deal with the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement are painful, the narrative marked by the tension and fear endemic to any change in society. Yet, in contrast, the black and white photographs clearly witness the strength of a people determined to forge ahead, comforting one another through their trials.

P.H. Polk, Arthur Rothstein, Cornell Capa and Romare Bearden were all influential as Higgins' career evolved, mentors, guides and friends, but the eye is distinctly that of the author, his images arresting for their exceptional quality and as a reflection of the humanity that imbues his work. Slowly redirecting his energies toward recognizing his African heritage, Higgins' body of work is transformed by his maturity, an understanding of all the facets of life today, personal memory as well as cultural identity. In the end, Higgins makes a "declaration" of himself and his place in the world, a visual history of all he has learned over the years.

I cannot recommend this collection enough. It is a joy to leaf through page after page of evocative images, the beauty of landscape and ancestral recognition caught in the flash of a moment. The thoughtful personal commentary brings the spirit of this artist alive in a satisfying meeting of art and personality, a treasure of one man's commitment to his time on this earth. Luan Gaines/2004.

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