Teeksa Photography


Photography of
Skip Schiel

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 journey—the 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.


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 we’d 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 society—racism, 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.

Each 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 family’s decision to flee black people in Chicago. I have pondered this connection for decades, and thru the photography, I begin to understand it.

Being 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 bus—another 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 Witness—The Power of Walking in Prayer, about the Pilgrimage, I show us at this site.

Part of my journey was going home, to Chicago, visiting friends who’d lived in the Delta, raised on a cotton plantation, fled during the Great Migration north of the 1960s. While I planned my Delta trip, Bernice Thomas told me where to look in her hometown of Clarksburg, Mississippi for key sites of her story—the plantation, her last home in town, the movie theater she visited. I found them, I brought her photos, she gave me stories. I experienced an inexplicable bonding with Bernice. Tho of a different color, different age, different gender, different class, I felt as if I were her, she me. I incorporate photos and sounds from this story in Delta Passage.


In 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, N’kosi 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.

And the Middle Passage Pilgrimage—we pilgrims were a mixed group, sought to learn not only about history but about living 24 hours a day, 7 days a week as a mixed age, mixed ethnicity, mixed gender group. We remained relatively cohesive, spoke with our actions as much as our words—especially in the South—and modeled in many ways the Beloved Community spoken about by Martin Luther King, Jr.


A pilgrimage is an unusual way to address societal ills—or unusual in the US context, but not historically. A Spirit People, my Pilgrimage story, explore the dynamics and meanings of our pilgrimage.

The merging of these various experiences and accounts demonstrates a fundamental truth in the quest for justice: the quest never ends, all is connected—each person, each event, the suffering as well as the victory—all one. Thru photos and words and other sounds, my project, One Sky, will enliven and inform the struggle for racial justice.



One Sky, 2001-2002 (third report, most recent)

An interim report, Mid Stream, June 2001 (second report)

pilgrimage report, Eyes Wide Open, Feet Walking, October 1999 (first report)

Online exhibits:

A Spirit People

In the Footsteps of the Freedom Fighters

Visions of the New South Africa

Slide shows:

Delta Passage: A Journey Home


    Teeksa Photography--Skip Schiel
    9 Sacramento Street
    Cambridge Massachusetts 02138-1843


(added December 13, 2002, revised January 22, 2003)