Yesterday morning I was invited to the National Museum of African American History to get a behind-the-scenes look at their first special exhibition More Than a Picture. Over 150 photographs and related objects will be on display from renowned photographers like Devin Allen and Ernest C. Withers. The exhibit will open to the public on May 5th.
Disclaimer: I find it difficult to photograph photographs but I hope I've done this work a modicum of justice.
Above: two photographs of the Museuem's exterior.
The exhibition is presented in such a manner that the viewer is encouraged to question their assumptions about the events or people captured in the photographs. One of my favorite examples of this is below, featuring two photographs (one by Devin Allen, one by Jermaine Gibbs) of the same child interacting with law enforcement. Because of choices made my the photographers, the two photos leave the viewer with very different impressions of the documented moment. It's a powerful reminder that we all should be questioning the images we so readily consume on a daily basis.
Part of the exhibition moved me to tears. To see queer culture documented and displayed in this context was amazing. Far too often history is both bleached and straightened and it was good to see faces that look like friends of mine on the museum walls.
This portrait of a young Prince, by Robert Whitman, taken just before the release of Prince's first album, was magnetizing. As a young, gay boy growing up in Georgia in the 70s and 80s, Prince was a beacon of hope. He was a man who appeared to have found a way to exist in the world that allowed him to be unusual yet still respected and liked. The world as I'd experienced it didn't seem to have room for a man like Prince — yet there he was. His passing last year, along with Bowie's (for the same reason I just mentioned), was hard for me. To see Prince young again, looking more like a mere mortal rather than the superhuman he would later become, was breathtaking.
I'll close with a placard from the 1963 March on Washington which reads, "We demand an end to police brutality now!" It hangs on the museum wall 55 years later while we still hear continued news reports of black boys like 15-year old Jordan Edwards being shot in the head by police, who attempted to lie and cover up their actions only to have their story refuted by dash camera footage.
We've still got a lot of work to do.