Coming Together: Through the Eyes of Community Photographers
As a photographer, I capture moments, but I don’t always tell stories. Many times, the stories come from you—the viewer. As you gaze at an image, your thoughts, memories, and feelings come together to create a narrative about what you see. At museums, countless stories are brought forth by a single image.
Come Together, Right Now! The Art of Gathering showcases photographs that encourage viewers to reflect on their experiences and even imagine themselves on the other side of the camera. Unique to this exhibition are photographs from members of our community—not just our local Hampton Roads community but our community that extends beyond this region. Hundreds of artists from around the world responded to the Chrysler Museum’s call to share, in pictures, what coming together means to them. With Seth Feman, the Chrysler Museum’s Deputy Director for Art & Interpretation and Curator of Photography, I pored over about 1,200 digital submissions to select approximately 200 images that are part of a digital slideshow in the Together in Justice section of the exhibition. Our goal was to select images that would allow us to narrate this moment in time with feelings and convey the themes of the show—celebration, purpose, justice, and love—through the eyes of the community. As we searched for the perfect shot, each detail mattered. The final selections are heavy with emotions. They are warm, provocative, heartbreaking, and joyous. The images are everything.
Scott Elmquist submitted several photographs he captured during protests in Richmond this summer. “The protests were remarkable, with unending energy and participation of thousands week after week in their desire to seek change in America,” he said. Elmquist’s Isaiah Prince “Trombone” Robinson plays at the Robert E. Lee Monument stood out to me. There’s so much going on in this image, and yet it’s peaceful. The beautiful graffiti in the background echoes many words in so many different colors. The black poster, “Funeral of a Nation,” stands out amongst the rest, and hidden in all of the beauty is a small poster that says, “Be Kind.” Right below that is someone’s hand holding an iPhone pointed at the musician, likely with the intent to capture his sound and the highly emotional moment in time. “The most dramatic message, ‘Funeral of a Nation,’ seemed to sum up the feeling of the protesters during the summer of 2020—optimism set off by despair over racial injustices,” Elmquist said.
Jason Tanaka Blaney’s image of a young girl dancing presents a happier moment, one that appears to be a moment of celebration. When I saw this image, I wondered if her eyes were closed the whole time. I thought about what kind of music was playing and even wondered if there was any music at all. I asked myself where her parents were. I answered these questions my way, and that’s the beauty of photography and art; without you, the viewer, the art isn’t complete.
The same applies for actually coming together. You are essential. Come Together, Right Now! highlights many things that cause people to draw closer to one another, but not always in a physical sense. Coming together looks different for everyone. It could be through peaceful protests, family dinners, hanging out with friends, or even spending time alone for self-reflection.
Alayna Pernell’s photograph, I’m Tired of Having to Deal with This, presents such a time of quiet solitude. The Chicago artist captured this image in August 2020 in her bedroom after finding herself alone once again after spending most of the summer with her family in Alabama. The reality of the pandemic and social injustice in the United States struck a nerve that day, despite her adequate grasp on coping mechanisms such as journaling and yoga. “The day this image was captured, I had reached my breaking point and had a meltdown. It is beyond true that our bodies react to stress in drastic ways, whether mentally or physically. My skin was broken out. I was wearing weave to prevent my hair from falling out like it had earlier this year. I was overworked, and I overall felt out of control of myself….I submitted my photo for this particular exhibition, which is wonderfully entitled Come Together, Right Now!, to show that anyone else who may have had similar experiences doesn’t have to feel alone. It may be tough now, but we’ll eventually get through it together,” Pernell said.
For many, coming together means connecting through a common goal, no matter how many miles separate you. With everything going on today, it is important to unite and work to understand one another. Though there are multiple sides to all of the issues happening around us, discussing the best way to move forward to create meaningful change is imperative. Come Together, Right Now! conveys that through the eyes and hands of artists.
To come together, we must also be willing to take the time to understand ourselves. Sometimes, that’s the hardest part. After we gather—whether it be physically, electronically, or in spirit—we have to think about who we are. Teams, groups, and nations are only as strong as their weakest link, and strength isn’t just a physical attribute; it’s also mental and spiritual. Take the time to understand yourself and your experiences. Then, consider how those things impact your view of the world. An essential part of my life is continually evaluating the people and the ideas I let into my life, and the more diverse those things are, the better. Darryl Daley’s image captures this process beautifully, a process that requires you to see yourself in a vulnerable light.
See more from our community photographers alongside works from the Chrysler Museum’s collection in Come Together, Right Now! The Art of Gathering, on view through January 3. Click here to view the full list of selected photographers.
Dawit N.M. is a director and photographer based in New York. At the age of six, he and his family relocated from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Hampton Roads, where he discovered his love for film and photography. He self-published his first photography book, Don’t Make Me Look Like the Kids on TV in 2018. The following year, he made his directing debut—a visual accompaniment for singer and songwriter Mereba’s debut album, The Jungle Is The Only Way Out. In summer 2020, he presented his debut museum exhibition, The Eye That Follows, at the Chrysler Museum of Art.