Words- A Black Lives Matter Image Collaboration

A world wide pandemic and nationwide protests sparked by the brutal death of George Floyd at the hands of police have caused many of us to do a lot of soul searching.

For me this soul searching has led me to have some very deep, meaningful and eye-opening conversations with a variety of people. Some are white, and some are black. Some I’ve known for years; some are new friends. All are people I have trusted to be candid with their answers as we discussed many things relating to social justice (or injustice) and racism, both systemic and social.

As a result of these conversations and the independent research I have done in matters of racism in America, I have learned so much. I have become aware of so many things I was previously blind to, and I have wondered how I missed a lot of what was happening right in front of me. 

I realized with more clarity than ever before that black brown citizens of the United States have had to deal with obstacles I have never had to. I came to understand what white privilege means. I finally understood hearing “Black Lives Matter” is not an affront…it is an affirmation of the validity of black culture and the value of black lives. It is acknowledgement that people of color have been dismissed, oppressed, ignored, and silenced in ways that have truly put them at a disadvantage. It is not an attack on the police, on white people, or on a political party to say “Black lives matter”.  

Because I had time (thanks, pandemic lockdown..) and was so inspired the tradition of the persistence and hope of people of color in America despite their struggles against racism, I wanted to use what I know as a photographer to visually express a truth so many live, yet so many still want to deny.

As I dreamed up the vision for these images, I knew I could not fully execute them by myself. Although I had a very clear idea of the techniques I wanted to use, it would have been incredibly presumptuous had I also chosen the shapes and forms the subject would take on in order to fully express the concepts of each image.

I wanted to work with someone who would understand the vision and pour her own creative energy and her experience as a woman of color into the series. Knowing her to be an accomplished dancer, talented make-up artist, young woman of integrity, and an all around creative goddess, I knew Jordan Benton would do an outstanding job.

Prior to the death of George Floyd and the protests that followed, Jordan and I had already made plans to collaborate on a series of images that were designed to be very whimsical in nature, but the timing for those images was completely wrong in light of all that had happened. Almost at the same time I was reaching out to Jordan to ask if we could change our project, she was reaching out to me with the same request. 

So, together we created a series of images based on words associated with what it’s like for black and brown people in America. History tells us they endured centuries of slavery, followed by road blocks both legal and socially “acceptable” stifling their chances to move forward economically, socially, educationally, and politically. 

Because Jordan is a dancer, I asked her to create poses to reflect six different words. Not only did she create haunting, powerful poses, she also had to hold them for 20 seconds each time due to the way I had chosen to light her and record the images. There is a lot of symbolism in the actual technique I used to shoot these images, and in a future blog post I’ll spell those out. 

Jordan did an incredible job,and it is her contribution that makes these images powerful. Here are her thoughts on this project:

“Pictures capture words and feelings that sometimes cannot be articulated through just words. This series is an introduction of my built up feelings about the oppression I have felt and witnessed in my life.”

It is our shared hope things will continue to change for the better for black people in America. We hope not only will this generation see the end of all forms of racism, but future generations will only know it by what they read in history books.