Category: community

building community

“The war of an artist with his society is a lover’s war and he does at his best what lover’s do which is to reveal the beloved to himself and with that revelation to make freedom real.”      James Baldwin

When I started wheat pasting large images along the roadside in 2009 I imagined it as an opportunity to deepen my relationship with the community where I work on the rez.  I often thought of this process as an experiment in building community in which I knew the medium for building community but was uncertain of the outcome.  What I’ve learned along the way is the importance of trust and how the process of building community parallels nurturing a friendship.

As a documentary photographer I believe everyone has a unique story though not everyone wants their story told.  But for those who do a trusting relationship established over time with the story teller is critical to an objective telling of this story.  I’ve learned inadvertently that taking someone’s words and writing or painting them directly onto their face is akin to the exercise of falling backwards trusting that the person positioned behind you will really catch you and prevent you from hitting the floor.  Unlike writing onto a photograph of someone’s face, spending 30 to 60 minutes sitting 18 inches away from someone you may not know well exploring the contours of their face, their lips, gently writing on their eyelids is a bonding, trust building exchange.  That someone would let you do this, photograph them and create a public mural is tangible evidence of their conviction to their beliefs, to their words.  As James Baldwin said, they are willing to reveal the beloved to himself and with that revelation make freedom real.

klee + princess 1.jpg

 

klee + princess 2

Rey Cantil painting the words of Flagstaff activists onto their faces regarding the controversial practice of using reclaimed waste water to make artificial snow on a sacred mountain.

 

klee + princess

 

john, sam + step

 

ladies 1

ladies 2

ladies 3

ladies 4

The experiment in community building is ongoing.  I continue falling backwards believing someone will be there to catch me. And while I don’t want to be known as the guy who writes on people’s face, it is an effective tool for getting a heartfelt message out.  Thank you to the community for trusting me with your words and joining me in this adventure.

“ain’t i a woman?”

kids-1

 

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In 1851 Kingston native Sojourner Truth electrified audiences at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, OH with an extemporaneous speech on the value of womanhood known as “Ain’t I a Woman?”  Having been invited to create a mural for the O + Festival in Kingston, New York my collaborator Jess X. Chen and I wanted to honor the historical contribution of Sojourner Truth to the women’s rights movement and her role as an humanitarian by asking three New York City based, African-American, female poets to share with us poems pertaining to African-American womanhood.  The three poets included Jennifer Falu; writer, poet and teacher T’ai Freedom Ford and writer, poet and director of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe Mahogany Browne. Sadly, due to time constraints only Mahogany Browne and T’ai Freedom Ford were included in the mural.

In celebrating these poets Jess + I chose to include verses of their poems as halos around their heads. Mahogany Browne’s halo is extracted from her poem “Black Girl Magic.”
They say you ain’t posed to be here
You ain’t posed to wear red lipstick
You ain’t posed to wear high heels
You ain’t posed to smile in public
You ain’t posed to smile no where, girl

You ain’t posed to be more than a girlfriend
You ain’t posed to get married
You ain’t posed to want no dream that big
You ain’t posed to dream at all
You ain’t posed to do nothing but carry babies
And carry weaves
And carry felons
And carry families
And carry confusion
And carry silence
And carry a nation — but never an opinion
You ain’t posed to have nothing to say
unless its a joke

Cause you ain’t posed to love yourself Black Girl
You ain’t posed to find nothing worth saving in all that brown
You ain’t posed to know that Nina Beyonce Tina Cecily Shonda Rhimes shine shine shine

Black Girl,
You ain’t posed to love your mind
You ain’t posed to love
You ain’t posed to be loved up on

You only posed to pose voodoo Chile’ vixen style
You posed to pop out babies & hide the stretch marks
You posed to be still
So still they think you statue
So still they think you a chalked outline
So still they keep thinking you stone
Until you look more Medusa than Viola Davis
Until you sound more Shenananay than Kerry Washington
Until you more side eye than Michelle Obama on a Tuesday

But You tell them you are more than a hot comb & a wash n set
You are kunta kente’s kin
You are a black Girl worth remembering

& You are a threat knowin yourself
Loving yourself
Loving your kin
Loving your children
you black girl magic
you black girl flyy
you black girl brilliance
you black girl wonder
you black girl shine
you black girl bloom
you black girl black girl
And you turning into a beautiful blk woman right before they eyes

T’ai Freedom Ford shared her poem “I Sell the Shadow to Sustain the Substance” which she dedicates to African-American conceptualist Glenn Ligon and to Sojourner Truth.  Verses of her poem were projected onto her and used in her halo.

“I Sell the Shadow to Sustain the Substance”

As a Black woman I am untitled – nameless.

My heart a faint glow of neon wire buzzing toward some shameless demise.

I stand against walls looking nonchalant.

Flashbulbs mistake me for celebrity or bored whore.

Same difference.

As Black woman I am installation art as negress.

My heart a black plastic bag ghosting streets.

What parts of me ain’t for sale as woman?

A sincere word of thanks goes out to Gaia, the Kingston O Positive Festival, Michael Pisacane, Andrew Erdos, Clara Darrason, Mahogany Browne, T’ai Freedom Ford, Jennifer Falu, Jess X. Chen and the good people of Kingston, NY.

mo

 

finished mural

 

jess + me

 

the poets, jess + i

with mahogany browne, jennifer falu, t’ai freedom ford and jess x. chen.

kicking it with j c + the family

ha!  silly me.  i thought i was just going to jc’s house to get a photo of her holding my new 1 color, hand-pulled screen print on archival paper (which features her as a 6 month old).  but no…

jc-holding-her-poster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“rethink coal”

15″ x 25″ archival screen-print                        embossed, signed + numbered for $35

meanwhile, if you’re going to dream, dream big!

hank's-mom-in-mirror hank-+-his-son dream-big dream-big-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

owen at the crossroads; back to the future…

6.--overview

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.  painting %22future%22

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4.  with jeff wilson + clara bensen (styling)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3.  with jeff wilson + clara bensen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

with jeff wilson + clara bensen

Artist Nils Westergard painted a mural in the fall of 2013 of a young man (Calvin Smith), from the community of Inscription House.  Last spring there was a day when the wind gusted up to 70 miles/hour resulting in several panels of the mural being blown off.  With great effort a friend and I repaired the painting.  (Thanks Stella!)  The same thing happened this spring; however, before being blown off a second time the piece was tagged by the Route 16 Lost Boyz.

I wanted to interact with Nils’ original piece and found a one of my favorite photos of Calvin Smith’s nephew, Owen + attempted to create a dynamic between them where they’re considering their futures.  Thanks to Jeff Wilson, Clara Bensen, Daniel Fararra + Nils Aucante for an amazing day!

 

glicée prints from my film library

minnie chasing sheep through navajo creek tom_web

minnie chasing her sheep and goats through navajo creek         may 1995

 

grandmas in a sun storm-tom_web

grandmas in a sun storm – navajo mountain                 august 1995

 

alice barlow w granddaugter 2 tom_webalice barlow with her granddaughter                               february 2000

Archival digital prints from film negatives on archival paper measuring 15 x 18 available for $150.  All prints on the chipthomasphotography.com website are available for printing in any size.  Yay!

mary williams in gray mountain; chloe + jetta in bitter springs

mary-williams-(close)

mary-williams-with-labrona(close)

overview

lee-+-effie-begay

lee + effie begay stopped by to say hello in gray mountain.  they were headed to flagstaff but recognized the photo of mary williams, lee’s auntie, and they turned about to check out the piece.   thanks for the love you two!

 

chloe-with-jetta-in-bitter-springs

chloe-in-bitter-springs-(day-of-installation)chloe with her pet lamb, jetta,in bitter springs.

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