By Tom Travis
Aiming to go beyond a photographic study, photographer Jerry Taliaferro hopes his exhibit will help the community explore “perceptions and biases” towards Black men.
“Recent events point to the urgent need for conversations about the contemporary Black American male,” Taliaferro said in a press release accompanying the show.
“Any effort, however humble, to foster an understanding of this largely misunderstood and often marginalized segment of the American population is of utmost importance,” Taliaferro added.
Taliaferro, 68, photographed men nominated by the community in early 2021. The 49 men photographed are divided into two sections: first a black and white photograph of just their face, and then later in the exhibition a larger photograph in color, where the subjects were instructed to ‘be themselves,'” according to the press release.
The exhibit is shown in the Hodge and Henry Gallery of the Flint Institute of Arts from Saturday, January 22 until Saturday, April 16, 2022.
The gallery is open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Entry to the exhibit is free for Genesee County residents. More details about the location and COVID protocols can be found at this link.
On the eve of the opening of the exhibition at a private showing for the men photographed, their families and the media, East Village Magazine (EVM) spoke with four men and their family members.
“Just because our skin is different doesn’t men we can’t make an impact in the world.” – Dennis Mitchell
“Just because our skin is different doesn’t mean we can’t make an impact in the world. We’re all, at the end of the day, human beings. We all breathe the same way, we eat the same way. We should always be united and not in conflict with each other.”
Asked what Mitchell’s hopes were for those visiting the exhibit in the coming months, he said, “I would want other races and all people to see this as a representation of Black kings making a difference in the world.”
Mitchell added that it was “beyond words” to be a part of the exhibit.
Dennis Mitchell, 23, born and raised in Flint, said, “it’s an honor to be a part of the exhibit.” Mitchell is Director of Youth Services at the Flint and Genesee Group.
“I’m just the type that likes to ‘do the work’ and I don’t do things to get notoriety, I don’t do things to be recognized but the more work that I do the more recognized I am. So it is an honor to be recognized among these great Black men.”
Leon Adams, 72, of Flint, a retired engineer, attended the event with his wife Patricia Adams, 71. “This is a historical moment and I’m among great men here. All these guys have made significant achievements and I’m just happy to be a part of them.”
“I think that people should take away from this that we have made significant achievements and contributions to the society and to the world.” – Leon Adams.
“I think this shows only a little tidbit of that here in reading the stories of all these men,: Adams said.
Patricia Adams, Leon’s wife, accompanied her husband with her arm wrapped around his she commented, “I’ve been smiling ever since his picture was taken. I’m excited about it. It’s a wonderful display and I hope people will come to the FIA to see this exhibit.
“It’s very heartwarming to know that the community sees me as an important asset to the community.“ – Deondre Chilton.
DeAndre Chilton, Jr., 18, a Flint resident and Grand Blanc High School student is the youngest man photographed in the exhibit. “Being the youngest of the men in this exhibit, it’s really important to me because it lets me know that people are looking towards me as the future of this community.
“It’s just really heartwarming to know that just a simple picture can capture so much about the person. And what they mean to our community, how they impact the community,” Chilton said. “It’s very heartwarming to know that the community sees me as an important asset to the community.”
He added, “I hope that those visiting the exhibit will realize the times are really in need of a change and the biases from before like the Jim Crow era were just not necessary and they were too much to be going on in the first place.” Chilton added hopes that people walk away from this exhibit knowing that us as Black people are not a threat to them.
Chilton reflected on his experience of seeing the photographer’s previous Flint exhibit, Women of a New Tribe. He said, “The exhibit really opened up to me that Black people could be anything that they wanted to be and as big as they wanted to be.”
Chilton is in his 13th year at UM-Flint. He said he hopes to go on to study software engineering at UM-Flint, Kettering, Howard University, UM-Ann Arbor, or the Rochester Institute of Technology.
“But rather to show the liveliness of and the pureness of a Black man in this gallery – You can’t put a price on that. It’s great to see.” – Trevor Norman.
Trevor Norman, 28, described the exhibit as “positivity for Black men. One thing I really liked as I walked through the exhibit is that it shows everyone smiling rather than opposed to a straight face or a mean face. It helps to bring the vibrancy out, you can see everyone’s personality in these photos.”
Norman said he hopes when people leave after visiting this exhibit that they’ll realize things like, “they don’t have to lock their doors when I walk by.”
“Honestly just to show a different side than what the media shows. We all know that the media portray Black men in a negative way whether they’re doing crimes or they’re showing the death of a Black man.
“But rather to show the liveliness of and the pureness of a Black man in this gallery — you can’t put a price on that. It’s great to see,” Norman added.
Keisha Norman, 49, Trevor’s mother, said, “It means the world to me to see my son in this exhibit. It’s an opportunity for the rest of the world to see what I get to see every day — which is a young man aspiring to do great things.
“He’s a photographer, he’s a barber, he loves longboarding – he’s more than just face that some people see as a negativity towards Black people. There are so many positive things that are happening in the Black community and we need to highlight more of that instead of highlighting negative things.
“There are so many things that we can highlight about especially our young men. Those men need to be celebrated more for their achievements and the things they’re doing in education, helping the community and trying to bring families together and keeping families united.
“All of this is important and we are doing that in our community and this exhibit helps to highlight those great things that our Black men are doing in our community.”
Pictured holding his camera in the photograph, Norman says he hopes to open his own gallery or partner with someone to open one where he can display his photographs.
“I think there are a lot of revelations to be had. We’re very proud of it,” John Henry, FIA executive director
“This is a tremendous survey of a very important community here in Flint. They have engaged in this project which exposes a lot of realities of what it means to be Black in America and Black in Flint. I’m hoping a lot of Flint turns out for this because I think there are a lot of revelations to be had. We’re very proud of it,” Henry commented.
“African American men in the Flint community who have had a positive impact…”
The selection process for the exhibition was based on the model used in the 2017 Women of a New Tribe exhibit, which was Taliaferro’s first exhibition at the FIA. In 2021 community members nominated “African American men in the Flint community who have had a positive impact on individuals, have helped those around them in the neighborhood and created positive change or furthered important issues in the community,” the press release explained.
“Visitors will have the opportunity to reflect and reconcile their initial reactions to the portraits, after getting to the men and their stories through text labels and QR codes that lead to interviews conducted by the artist with each man,” according to the press release.
The exhibition marks both the return of Taliaferro art work to Flint and the fifth anniversary of his previous exhibition Women of a New Tribe, which proved to be a popular exhibition.
While not present in-person Taliaferro did appear on a zoom call in the FIA theater where patrons could engage and ask questions.
Stories from Sons: Seeing the Modern African American Male
East Village Magazine (EVM) reporter Harold Ford gathered some of the stories from the “sons” photographed in FIA’s exhibit. Here is a sampling of five descriptions from information provided at the current exhibit. The name of the “son” is followed by three words or phrases they provided to describe themselves.
Bob Campbell – Husband, Father, Writer: Campbell is a Flint native and author of Motown Man, a novel published in Nov. 2020, reviewed by East Village Magazine. The setting of Motown Man is the “vehicle city,” Flint, Michigan in the 1990s. The book explores themes of racial identity and relationships in an industrial town. No less than striking, his portrait at the FIA exhibit shows Campbell dressed smartly in black and white formalwear holding a copy of his book.
Anthony Artis – Art Collector, Teacher, Bible-based pastor: Artis is co-pastor of Dedicated Believers Ministries. He holds a B.A. in Business Administration and a Master’s of Divinity degree. He and his wife have created The Anthony and Davida Artis Collection of African-American Art that will be shown in 40 U.S. cities, 2022-32. Pieces from his collection made its debut at the FIA, Jan.-Apr., 2020.
DeAndre Chilton, Jr. – King, Son, Loyal: Chilton is the youngest of the 49 men featured in the FIA’s “Sons” exhibition. He is a student at Grand Blanc High School. At GBHS he is a member of the National Honor Society, the cross-country team, a jazz band member, and captain of the bowling team. He is president of the Alpha Esquires, a mentoring program; he represents the Alpha Esquires at oratorical events.
Stephen Mayfield – Educator, Police Officer, Entrepreneur: Mayfield has been a law enforcer for more than 30 years. He is currently employed by the Department of Public Safety at the University of Michigan-Flint. He teaches public safety at the local Career Institute. He is co-founder of the Block Club, a UM-F student organization that promotes community service, social events, and safety.
Rico Phillips – Ice Hockey Ambassador, Retired Professional Firefighter, Community Representative: Phillips retired from the City of Flint Fire Department after 27 years of service. His passion since high school has been ice hockey; he played on the team at Flint Southwestern High School. He began officiating matches in the 1980s. In 2010, he founded the Flint Inner-City Youth Hockey Program that introduces hockey to 8- to 11-year-olds. In 2019, he was recipient of the National Hockey League’s Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award. He assists the Ontario Hockey League “to help ensure that the game is inclusive for all players, staff, and fans.” His portrait at the FIA shows him clutching a hockey stick, of course.
A life of photography – Taliaferro
Taliaferro was born in the small southern town of Brownsville, Tennessee, according to his personal website: www.blackartphotoart.com. He is a 1977 graduate of West Point Military Academy. While serving at Fort Bragg his interest in photography began. While he was serving in the U.S. military in Germany his first published photograph appeared in a Munich magazine in 1985. He spent many years in commercial and advertisement photography.
In the ensuing years his focus has turned towards fine art photography. Other exhibits of Taliaferro include: The Tuskegee Airman Project and Black Women as Muse.
EVM Managing Editor Tom Travis can be reached at email@example.com.
EVM reporter Harold Ford contributed to this article. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.