With more than 100 stunning photographs adorning the walls of the gallery in the School of Design, award-winning photographer Lou Jones sat down with Barry Gaither, Director and Curator of the Museum of the National Center for Afro-American Artists to discuss how his decade-long panAFRICAproject came to be.
Moderated by Professor Jim Fitts, they delved into the origins of the project, Jones’ path to photography and the impact he hopes the photos will have.
“I read an article in the New York Times 15 years ago that the African Union was going to censor Western access to their continent because of the slanted view that was presented,” said Jones. At first, he was outraged. “Censorship is a four-letter word to me, but then I realized they were probably right and that was the embryo of the idea.”
From the beginning, Jones worked to find a way to portray the real Africa. “My colleagues were all in Africa to win Pulitzer Prizes and it is images of conflict and pestilence that win awards.” That was not the real Africa to Jones.
Gaither echoed the sentiment. “The image of Africa in the Americas were often dreadful and depressing. One of the things that warms the heart enormously in the panAFRICAproject is that Lou has given real imagery to an Africa we have wished to see.” Jones has shown that “each country is different and they manufacture stuff there, there are kids with their bright eyes who are as excited to learn as in any part of the world. Lou is giving us a view into that world.”
To date, Jones has visited at least 10 countries. He starts by making connections before visiting. Then, arriving without a plan, not knowing where he is staying or where he will travel, he makes more connections, until he gains access. “I have to talk my way in once I get there, but it’s been amazing that almost all people answer their cell phone. The CEO or the student. “
Jones considers photography a universal language and instantly understandable. “We use photography as a currency. We give some of the photographs to the organizations we shoot. One hospital used our photographs to raise funds. “ But, it is a challenge, he adds, to bridge the cultural divide, since not everyone always agree on what a photo represents.
Jones also spent a vast amount of time working with people to gain intimate access to interior spaces; homes, living rooms, work spaces and community spaces where people gather. “Most images people are used to seeing (of Africa) are of the outside. I wanted to take pictures of the interior. Not just the buildings, but the interior of their minds and mine as well.”
When asked about his career path, Jones, who started out studying physics and was a rocket scientist, decided instead to pursue his love of photography. He is a successful award winning commercial photographer based in Boston an the panAFRICAproject is his passion.
“I’m interested in what African people are dealing with and that comes from a lifetime of being black.” However, he quickly adds, “it’s where my heritage started, but I’m from the United States, so It’s not about me going home. I am not African. I am just sympathetic with the issues of a continent unjustly maligned. Africa has entrepreneurship, innovation, music and culture. That’s what I’m going for.”
When a member of the audience asked him to reflect, Jones said “I’m’ a kid from the ghettos of Washington., D.C. “I have exceeded my dream.”
Co-curators of the panAFRICAproject are School of Design Professors Alison Poor-Donahue, Jim Fitts and Brian Wilson
The exhibit, co-sponsored by Panopticon Gallery, will be on display through April 16. Learn more about the exhibit here.