In a time of severe exasperation towards the American political system by many Americans, regardless of their thoughts and beliefs, it can be refreshing to see an artist challenge the country by loving it. This is the stance photographer Cecil McDonald Jr. discussed during his talk on Sept. 23 in CFA. McDonald believes you should challenge the country’s difficulties by loving it.
“Kind of like what you do with your children when raising them – challenge them through your love for them. So that’s just me thinking about this very complicated history that I have with the country and how we use art as a way to unearth that, to play with that,” McDonald said.
McDonald’s work mainly depicts African Americans doing mundane everyday tasks. By showing this, McDonald hopes the viewer, regardless of race, can see themselves in the photographs doing the same ordinary tasks. McDonald uses African Americans as subjects in his photographs to represent the American image and the image of the world.
“I wanted to make pictures that would depict the ordinary black person that’s important to the culture, American culture, the culture of the world … The whole body of my work comes out of my relationship with what it means to be an American,” McDonald said.
With the intentional decision to have the African American figures in his photographs, McDonald stresses that he isn’t trying to make his photographs political; instead, he hopes everyone can see themselves in his work.
“It’s an uphill battle because whenever black people appear in photographs, it nine times out of ten becomes immediately political and even more so if the person who made it was black. But I strive for inclusivity so everyone can partake in the work,” McDonald said.
McDonald sees photography specifically as the most democratic medium of art because everyone has access to cameras nowadays and everyone can participate in it, thus allowing photography to accept everyone. However, McDonald believes that photography can also be a very aggressive medium.
“It’s not a natural thing to do, to be in someone’s face as this kind of apparatus is going off. It’s a very aggressive stance and for the longest time, only white men had access to cameras,” McDonald said.
McDonald decides to primarily photograph his figures from the side, in profile view, because it allows the viewer a more relaxed viewing experience rather than the discomfort of the figure staring straight back at the camera and the viewer.
“I’m always interested in what it is I’m looking at and how can you as the viewer participate in the thing I’m looking at as well … the profile view allows the viewer a long sustained one [view],” McDonald said.
McDonald’s exhibition “In the Company of Black” will be displayed in the Borzello Gallery until Oct. 18.