One Sky, a series of photographs about historic slavery and contemporary racism
Recent journeys to South Africa, the United States South, and a pilgrimage retracing the trans-Atlantic slave trade
In May 1998, I was about to embark on the Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage, giving up my home (I hoped temporarily), on the road for 15 months, uncertain about the outcome of our organized attempt to retrace the African Atlantic slave route and experience. One year later I flew from Boston to Johannesburg, South Africa to rejoin the pilgrims for the concluding month and then reside in South Africa four more months to offer my photography to organizations helping to rebuild the newly freed democratic nation. In September 1999 I returned home and began what is a more difficult portion of my journeythe post production phase, doing something with my experience, sorting it out, comprehending it, shaping it so others can share it. I edit, that is, bring forth, which is the root meaning of the word edit.
INTERFAITH PILGRIMAGE OF THE MIDDLE PASSAGE
Numerous rivers flow from and back to the Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage. Our hope as pilgrims was to walk, pray, and reflect, examining history, offering prayers and ceremonies to those who suffered, seeking to change the legacy of slavery in its contemporary forms of oppression. I departed the main group after wed completed the United States portion in New Orleans, returned to the deep south for four months to photograph for organizations that had aided us, and resided in South Africa four months to similarly offer my photography pro bono to groups seeking to benefit the emerging nation. While walking, while exploring, while residing, while photographing, above me always was one sky, the same sky, with myriad variations everywhere. Same cumulus and cirrus clouds in Alabama as in Massachusetts. Same westerly flow of air masses in the northern hemisphere as in the southern. Same moon over Manenburg, a township near Cape Town, as over the rural regions of Georgia. So the image of One Sky came to me as an emblem and title for my project.
True of geography, true politically as well. One Sky arches over the triplet that Martin Luther King, Jr., defined as the root cause of the ills facing United States societyracism, poverty, and militarism. Facing one means facing all, absorbing the poisons of one means being infected by all. In my One Sky photographic project, I hope to concentrate on racism, one element, revealing.
section recounts one of my personal journeys, shows a story, delves into
my attitudes and understandings as they change. Racism and struggles to
end it permeate my experiences. For instance, in Delta Passage, I search
for sites anchoring US history of the 1950s and 1960s. I located the small
town in Mississippi, now decrepit and abandoned, where Emmett Till was
murdered in 1955. His torture, death, and mutilation crackled thru the
country, helping instigate the Civil Rights Movement. Thru a mystifying
synchronicity, the year 1955 was also the year of Rosa Parks, the Freedom
Charter in South Africa, and my familys decision to flee black people
in Chicago. I have pondered this connection for decades, and thru the
photography, I begin to understand it.
alone where Emmett Till died, I sensed his spirit, something of his agony.
I show the decayed buildings, the vacant landscape, and insert images
from Ernest Withers book about the murder. Earlier, on the Middle
Passage Pilgrimage, with over 50 others, I had vigiled at the site of
Rosa Parks refusal to sit in the back of the busanother instance
of being present to a spirit that seems to effuse from geographic space.
Together we pilgrims marveled at her courageous example, some of us offered
prayers and thanksgiving. In my slide show, Walk the WitnessThe
Power of Walking in Prayer, about the Pilgrimage, I show us at this site.
South Africa, we pilgrims resided for three days at the famed Robben Island
prison, once known as the University of Anti-Apartheid because of the
education and organizing by political prisoners like Nelson Mandela. We
were guests of the recently opened museum, a thriving testimonial to the
changes in South Africa. We met with former prisoners, now tour guides
and storytellers and artists. One of them, Lionel, tried to teach us the
national anthem, Nkosi Sikelel'i Africa. This was living history,
and melded powerfully for me with my experiences in Montgomery, Alabama
and the Mississippi Delta. My South African series includes this story,
as well as the looming walls of the prison and the cell Mandela lived
in for many years.
is an unusual way to address societal illsor unusual in the US context,
but not historically. A Spirit People, my Pilgrimage story, explore the
dynamics and meanings of our pilgrimage.
Sky, 2001-2002 (third report, most recent)