The Visual Journey
I believe that a photograph never lies about the photographer. Yes, the photographer. Not the subject. The photographer! We all see the world filtered through our own personal life histories. What we know and what we believe influence how we see. Whether we reveal it consciously or unconsciously, we all have a point of view. Our photographs "reflect" how we see. Our emotions, our fears, our thoughts, our ideas all inform our photographs - and reveal our inner feelings about the world.
Self-awareness is key to becoming a good photographer, and being a good photographer enhances self-awareness; this is a symbiotic relationship. Recognizing your vision is not something that happens overnight, usually. Some of us pick up a camera knowing what it is we want to say. But for most of us that discovery can take years and in most cases is a continuously changing process.
The camera offered a way to document my point of view. So I set out to make my own pictures and then to get them published. This grew into a life-long mission - to show the decency, dignity, and virtuous character of people of African descent. This has never precluded my making photographs of all kinds of people. I do. In fact, a recent project harks back to my original passion to document the wisdom that I saw in my older relatives. This project, called Elder Grace: The Nobility of Aging, is again about capturing what I was not seeing. In our society, elders when not being ignored are too often portrayed as frail, ill or in some way compromised - in short, an unwelcome burden. So I made a conscious decision to show others what I feel is missing in our society's attitude toward its eldest members. Aging is a blessing. I believe that aging gracefully can become a work of art.
I shot hundreds of images of elders of all races. My publisher selected my images of African Americans. Eighty of these ordinary yet extraordinary individuals make up my book and national traveling exhibition, Elder Grace: The Nobility of Aging. However, numerous smaller more intimate exhibitions were spun off for communities throughout New York City and its environs. These local shows - in banks, community centers, libraries and hospitals - feature people of all races. Confronting ageism is the message here.
Recently I appeared on a museum panel with jazz photographer Charles "Chuck"Stewart. He told those present he came to photography at the young age. His mother gave him his first camera, and the day he brought it to school, opera singer Marion Anderson visited. His photographs quickly became bestsellers among the student body, encouraging and showing him that photography could have emotional and financial rewards. As for jazz, he says, he always wanted to be a musician. His camera was his ticket to the music scene. He naturally wanted to document the people he most admired. His photographs reveal his passion for music and the respect he holds for its creators.