Upon my return to Milwaukee, WI in spring 2021, I began photographing several spots repeatedly. My intention was to capture as many seasons as I could while in town. It’s been well over a year now and I’ve entered a second cycle for this project.
In edition to capturing spaces at different times of the year, I captured different times of day and various weather conditions. I think it’s a lovely collection of work, but of course I’ biases.
My goal is to offer several as prints in the near future.
On June 19, 1865, a Union Army general rode into Galveston, TX with General Order #3 to inform the African American enslaved population, and their enslavers, that they were free and had been so since the signing of Proclamation 95 and presidential executive order dated January 1, 1863. Two years, four months and 18 days earlier. Nearly six months after Congress passed the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery on January 31, 1865. And a couple months after the Civil War ended on April 9, 1865.
The general also advised the people who were just informed of their freedom that they should remain on the plantations they had been enslaved on and wait for wages from their former masters who were now deemed their employers with whom they had just been granted equal rights under the law. Yada, yada, yada. We can all see how this played out over the last 157 years.
Ironically, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified on December 6, 1865, was presented as confirmation that slavery was abolished in the United States. Yet the very law that abolished slavery in plain sight, made it legal out of sight. The 13th Amendment allows for slavery and involuntary servitude for those convicted of crimes.
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation
On June 19, 1866, Juneteenth was observed for the first time as the end of slavery in America. [Technically forced prison labor and human trafficking are forms of slavery still thriving in America today, but the unvarnished truth is nothing to celebrate.]
Juneteenth becomes a Federal Holiday
On February 25, 2021, Senator Edward Markey sponsored Juneteenth National Independence Day as a legal public holiday in Congress. The act was signed into law on June 17, 2021. On June 19, 2021, everyone in America enjoyed a new federal holiday – many of whom had no idea of the roots or significance.
For the 156th Juneteenth aka Emancipation Day, and the second Juneteenth National Independence Day, I observed in the silence of my creative space. I chose to edit three pieces from my catalog that speak to me about the foundation of exploitation in the United States of America and the continued impact of capitalist malfeasance on our existence today.
Though my most recent work focuses on Black Women, the harm is felt throughout all of society.
As much as people want to think that the least valued and unappreciated people don’t matter in the larger picture, the history of the world shows that what a society accepts for the least of their members will become the norm for all.
We are all the same in differ ways.
The Juneteenth Print Series
It may seem late for #Juneteenth, but #freedom is actually late.
The prints in my Juneteenth 2022 Print Series are titled:
Each image is available as 5×7 & 11×14 print on silk paper. They can be ordered on this site and via my Square Store.
The Juneteenth 2022 Print Series: Built on Cotton depicts Lady Liberty walking towards mainland USA across New York Harbor as a sea of cotton.
The New York Slavery Records of the City University of New York dates slavery in New York back to 1525. They cite the 1830 census as recording 75 enslaved Africans in the state, despite an 1817 law emancipating the enslaved in the state.
The Crossing: Blood in the Water depicts a mother & daughter holding hands across the Atlantic. There’s blood enveloping a ship-like structure behind them that stretches from the African continent to the USA.
Between 1500 and 1900, it’s estimated that approximately 15 million Africans from across the continent were taken by European enslavers. There are no exact numbers as no one kept detailed records. Approximately 10.5 million enslaved Africans arrived in the Americas and the Caribbean. Some estimate that close to 2 million are buried in the Atlantic Ocean with the remainder dying in Africa during their transport to the coast.
Black Women Stand Alone depicts a lone Black Woman sitting in front of the White House as a police officer approaches her. Barricades with signs reading *Do Not Enter* are barring her entry to the seat of power.”
State violence against Black Women happens in many forms and infiltrates every level and theatre of society. Black women are treated as inferior humans, wives, mothers, employees. They are neglected in education, healthcare, business, government and society. They are targeted by men, women, science, police, and government programs. There are truly no safe spaces at any level for Black Women.
Creating composite images is a favorite process of mine. It’s time consuming and I have only worked on a small fraction of the images I’ve captured, but seeing a panorama come together from several images is an inspirational joy. Usually editing is required to even out lines in the landscape, but when it works, it works beautifully.
Below are some composites from my time in Arizona. I’ve been mining my cache for possible prints and NFTs to offer for purchase. Are there any you can see on your wall?
Today I honor my ancestors. I honor all the women who stood and spoke in their power. May they rest well. May we live well as we continue moving forward in the footsteps of giants.
For a few years now, I’ve wanted to do a road trip focusing on historic African American Women. The pillars for me are Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman. I’ve been mapping out sites they lived and worked for a while.
Throughout March and April this year, I finally got on the road for an extended trip. This one wasn’t focused on African American Women exclusively, but it was deeply saturated in African American history and culture. However, because I AM Woman is named for one of Sojourner Truth’s speeches, I truly wanted to make sure she was part of this road trip. So Battle Creek, MI was added to my route. I visited a monument dedicated to her and her grave site at Oak Hill Cemetery.
We think of history as being so distant, but standing at Mother Sojourner’s grave site made me very aware that her time was not so long ago.
In 2009, I had the pleasure of meeting Nnamdi Okonkwo at an art show in Manhattan.
Pictured: Nnamdi Okonkwo, Sculptor, with Resolution
A couple of years ago I started following him on IG and told him I was looking forward to the day I could purchase my first piece of art from him.
Have you thought about what your first real art purchase would be? I’ve long suspected mine would be sculpture. Something three-dimensional.
When I moved to New York City in 2005, I began visiting art galleries. My favorite one is on Central Park South. There’s some beautiful work in that gallery. But even if I could swing the exorbitant price tags, the pieces I liked best didn’t really reflect me.
When I met Nnamdi with his lady Resolution, I wanted to lean in, take a seat and speak with them both. Not only did he speak to me but so did his work.
Last month while on a cross country road trip, I asked if he was available for a studio visit. He was. I visited and it was the highlight of my trip and a true joy I will remember throughout my life. I placed an order for two small sculptures, “Joy” and “They are Waiting.” I wanted to select art that not only reflected some of my physicality, but also expressed where I am spiritually and emotionally. My whole life is long waits dotted with bursts of joy.
The below video shares some of my exploration of Nnamdi’s studio as well as his graciousness in opening his space and answering my questions. I’ve also added pictures of him from the art show in Manhattan and of me sitting with his “Friends” monument installation in Harlem in 2012. I refer to this statue as “Sisters,” in the video but please note “Sisters” has three more figures than “Friends.”
When we sat to talk in his studio last month, Nnamdi started off by saying he remembered meeting me all those years ago. My first inclination was to dismiss his comment. Then I had to reject my dismissal. He and his work had made such an impression on me I’ve literally remembered one of his pieces with me as a figure in it (see video). ☺
We live in a superficial world where people change their interests with the shifting winds seeking instant gratification. I’ve never been one for the quick fix. I’m purposeful and methodical. I come through on the follow-through eventually.
For those of you who may be beating yourself up for taking too long to do something or acquire a wishlist item, remind yourself it’s your life to live at your pace. When you’re in a comfortable enough space to do that unnecessary, but pleasurable thing, your satisfaction will have no limits.
Check out Nnamdi Okonkwo’s work at http://www.nnamdiart.com. Yo can find him on IG (@nnamdiart) and Facebook (@nnamdi.okonkwo.96).
“In my indigenous culture, womanhood is venerated. In my sculpture I want to express the noble virtues of humanity such as empathy, love, humility and inner strength which women possess. The voluminous shapes are aesthetically pleasing and intoxicating to me, but why also serve to emphasize the largeness of the soul of womanhood.”
In 2018, I hosted a number of mini photo shoots for women interested in free photos and possibly being part of my final project titled, I AM Woman. The portrait sessions took place in New York City, Chicago, Gary, Milwaukee and Phoenix. The various backdrops include skyscrapers, water, desert, green parks, and museums.
Though I wanted interesting backgrounds, the backdrops were not a focus or priority. The locations were chosen for convenience and diversity. New York sort of lead the charge here as I held about six sessions around town. One was a practice shoot with a former co-worker in Central Park North. My second practice shoot took place at a women’s conference in Harlem. The third shoot was someone else’s photo project that I asked to join in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Permission was granted to tag alongside her photographer for my own shots and I offered to share my work with her for her project. After this, I scheduled my own sessions and accepted whoever showed up. Battery Park, Central Park, Columbus Circle – the City is certainly a huge part of I AM Woman.
Meeting in open, well-populated landmark locations seemed to work well. All the women were, for the most part, comfortable and almost immediately at ease.
In Milwaukee, the meet happened at the Milwaukee Art Museum. The landmark architecture of the Burke Brise Soleil, designed by Santiago Calvatrava, had to be the backdrop for this Great City on a Great Lake.
At the end of the shoots, I didn’t think I had done such a good job capturing the building. It was blurry and cut off in a lot shots. In others, the angles were unattractive. Again, since the building wasn’t my priority, I went about selecting the images of the women that best represented how they saw themselves.
Luckily, I don’t really delete my digital images. Years ago, I decided to keep everything I shoot with the belief that what I don’t like today will be amazing to me tomorrow. Because of this, editing the images for I AM Woman is exposing a great deal of possibilities by blending images I would normally do nothing with into images that need a bit of umph! I stitched four such photos together that didn’t work by themselves to get a great final image that will be the background of one of my portraits from that day in the final cut.
These were shot with my Sony A7iii and Rokonon 14mm wide lens; composited with Microsoft ICE; color and cropping were done in Lightroom; removals and smoothing done in Photoshop; and final finishes were done in Topaz Labs Impression. What do you think?