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RECKONING:Evolution is a photographic meditation on African American culture, politics & identity. As a part of the larger RECKONING retrospective project, this first volume is presented as a series of diptychs that explore the subtext of the political and cultural climate in African American communities in the 1990s. RECKONING:Evolution is the first installment in a series of exhibits based on my first fifteen years of work as a photographer. The exhibition premiered at the Electric Tea Garden gallery space in Seattle, WA from April 14 – July 8, 2009. RECKONING:Evolution is currently available for display.
RECKONING…I curated this body of images in 2008. I mounted it as an exhibit in the spring of 2009. 2008 marked my first fifteen years as a photographer. I began my photographic journey while I was in college. I was working in the campus computer lab at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, GA and I purchased a Canon AE-1 outfit from a one of the lab administrators. From that day photography became as much a part of my life as breathing.
I was reared in a home where critical thinking, political awareness and social responsibility and activism were virtually religious tenets. My mother was very active in the Black Power and African Cultural Nationalist movements of the late sixties and seventies. Even as those movements waned she remains steadfast in her adherence to her ideals today. My father is Nigerian, thus my worldview was formed from bi-cultural (African-American and Nigerian) perspectives and an unblinking critique of our society.
My photography became a vehicle for me to investigate and critique my world. My primary interest was, and is, the continuing evolution of an African identity in America. America has always posed a specific challenge to the formation and expression of a humanity borne out of the African experience and aesthetic. As African-Americans our willingness and ability to identify with Africa and being African has been saddled with caution, doubt, loathing, self-loathing and fear from the moment our ancestors set foot on these shores. Simultaneously it has been our expression of what is most African in us that has been the raft that has carried us over rough seas in a storm that has raged for centuries. This tension between our most uninhibited being-ness and the acknowledgement of the source of that expressive ecstasy is what makes our culture and life in America brilliant and tragic. We are drawn to Africa, even as we avoid and run from it. Understanding this experience in deeper and more profound ways is what drives my creative life.
My photography is saturated with my desire to see ‘US’ with a greater clarity. The specific motivations driving many of my photographic choices weren’t always clear. However in retrospect I am able to stand back and view many of my images in new contexts. Seemingly unrelated photographs are drawn to one another as they speak to me of similar truths. I am able to recognize how, when photographing subjects seemingly separated in every imaginable way, I was intuitively chasing the enigmatic spirit-body of what I would come to recognize as a collectively conscious African mindset. The images and the experiences seem to transform when from afar. At first betraying their hidden dimensions, now they speak of things I would have never imagined. I look on with a new sense of excitement as a feel I am often seeing my people anew. These themes, though prevalent, are not all pervasive.
This project is inclusive of everything I have shot and will shoot between 1993 and 2008. Some are images created for clients and others represent my personal explorations into other areas of interest. I find myself driven to this place with equal amounts of serendipity and deliberation. I felt myself approaching a milestone in my career as a photographer. As a sense of uncertainty about the direction of my work began to encompass me, I turned to scanning old negatives as a distraction. Since I wasn’t feeling driven or inspired I decided to enjoy some images that never had the benefit of being processed. What began as a pastime quickly revealed itself as a crucial exercise in self-reflection and perhaps a way of understanding where I need to go next as a photographer and an artist. This photographic diary, ‘Reckoning’, is all about measurements, weighing and assessing where I’ve been as a means of finding my way forward. It is also about looking anew at where we are and where we have been as a people. Some of the images I am sure will be affirming, while others may prove difficult to witness. Whatever I discover as I give myself over to this process will be revealed in this place. It is my hope that what transpires here will evolve into a document valuable not only to me, but to others in search of similarly elusive ‘truths’ about who we are as human beings.