Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Strength of Our Fathers: A 2008 Exhibition Celebrating African American Fatherhood

Sometime during the fall of 2007, Jerome Meadows, a sculptor living and working in Savannah, noticed something as he drove through the east side neighborhood where his studio is located. He saw a father holding his small child.
A relatively unremarkable sight for many, the scene stirred him deeply. For some time, Jerome had felt disheartened by the stereotype many see black fathers labeled with by American society and media; that stereotype being they are often absent, uncaring, and disinterested in the lives of their children. Jerome knew there were loving and caring black men that are responsible to their families and society in every corner of the world. He wanted to get that message out; he wanted to bust the stereotype.

He envisioned an exhibit of photography; portraits of black men and their children that were emotive and powerful. He wanted the photographs to be recorded on film and printed using traditional processes in the small darkroom that was a part of his studio. The images would be exhibited in Indigo Sky Gallery, a gallery located adjacent to his studio.

Jerome approached one of the members of PURE to discuss the project and asked her to be the sole photographer for the selected fathers and children. (Please see yesterday's post to learn about PURE.) However, as the project grew and evolved, it became clear that photographing 18 fathers, their children and potentially their grandchildren in the time allotted was a daunting task for one person. Eventually, the corps of photographers swelled to five volunteers and shooting began.

Seemingly endless meetings for image editing and print selection followed and the show eventually came together, debuting at Indigo Sky Gallery in April of 2008. It was shown again for a special Father’s Day celebration at a local church, also in 2008.

For my part in the project, I was asked to coordinate with three of the other photographers and spend a Saturday shooting in an impromptu set built in the truck sized doorway of Jerome’s sculpture studio. The images were produced against a simple white seamless background in natural light. The “studio” was in constant shade throughout the day and the light meter never wavered. It was wonderful. We couldn’t have asked for better shooting conditions.

In the end, much of the project could not be produced using Jerome’s darkroom. I shot all of my images on film in an attempt to remain true to the concept, but was forced by time and other considerations to produce the prints digitally as were the other photographers. It’s no matter; good work was created and I’m not complaining.

The show was well received and the opening reception was standing room only. One fascinating aspect of the show was that each father and child completed a questionnaire about the importance of each in the others lives. Their responses were incorporated into the photograph titles.

Many of the photographers, me among them, turned the tables on the fathers by handing their children – often very small children – our cameras and asking them to photograph their dads and siblings. The pictures taken by them were wonderfully touching and were shown on their own wall in the gallery.

Although the processes of the project were often trying (if you’ve ever attempted to get six artists, plus a panel of gallery directors to agree on anything, you can understand) it was in the end, a beautiful and successful show.

The participating photographers were Bill Ballard, Asa Chibas, Annie Y. Patrick, Jessica Stelling, and Natalie von Lowenfeldt.

These four images represent my contribution to “The Strength of Our Fathers.” I hope you enjoy them.

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