Leading into commencement last week I was tasked with shooting some portraits in the studio. Studio shoots are not my strong-suit. I never feel I do anything particularly impressive when I am put in a studio or asked to incorporate lighting, for that matter.
But the goal was to make portraits to go along with videos of BU community members reflecting on the murder of George Floyd two years after the incident.
The participants would go and be interviewed, and then come to me in the studio.
One person came in, stood behind the chair I had set-up for the subjects to lean on, sighed, and said, “Do you ever think you’ve shared too much?”
I thought very quickly about what to say to this beautiful Black woman, who had just come from reflecting on Floyd’s murder. She was asked to do so on the day after a mass shooting at a grocery store, where mainly all the victims were Black people.
I told her I thought that once you’re seated and asked to talk about something so painful, it would make sense that one would almost get on a roll and share a lot. “Especially with what’s just happened” I said, referencing the grocery store shooting, “I cannot fathom how that must feel and I’m really sorry.”
“I hope you never do” she told me as she got a bit misty-eyed. And then she posed proudly and regally for the photo.
A half hour later another person came in. Then another.
I spent the day looking through my lens at these individuals, and all I could think was Is this person afraid to go grocery shopping? Or This person could be killed at any time. Or Will this be one of those portraits I pull out of archives later because they’ve been killed too?
It was upsetting. It was uncomfortable. And I welcomed that discomfort. I didn’t want it, but I knew it was important to sit in it. Because at the end of the day I can leave work and go to the grocery store and not worry. I can drive and maybe be pulled over and not worry.
I think it’s important to be reminded in a very personal and real way how our lives are different from others, since being reminded hopefully helps us maintain empathy.
Here’s the project;