While the thought is in me..
.. and the dream is at the surface.
Before I started this project, The Black Portlanders, I was working on another project, The People Could Fly Project.
I started this work when I was 20 years old. I was very passionate about it, committed to it.
At its core, it was about the dreams of young people and people in the African Diaspora. It took its form and inspiration from a Black American folktale.. the myth of the flying African… found in Virginia Hamilton’s “The People Could Fly.” This myth, with renditions throughout the Americas, tells of African people who fly. They lose their wings in the process of slavery.. before remembering themselves, their power, and flying away. Black flight has roots and renditions deep in American literature, art, and folklore. Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon. Ishmael Rasheed’s Flight to Canada. Faith Ringgold’s Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in The Sky.
My first project, dubbed The People Could Fly Project, was about the power of dreams.
It was my dream. My sisters and I flew over 200,000 miles collectively to find and research the reality of this myth and collective dream in the lives of people today. We had flight privileges at the time, through our father’s airline work. We could fly anywhere in the states.. We used that to create art and embody.. become this myth of The Flying African. We used it to craft a real life adventure, story made real.
I wrapped just about everything I love into The People Could Fly Project. Adventure. The investigation of story. Travel. Photography. Dance. Writing. Media. Dreams. The investigation of the ldreams of people within the diaspora… As an aspect of the lives and dreams of the world. Integral. Inseparable.
My sisters and I took this impulse of a story told by people enslaved here in America .. We took it and we traveled the tale, literally. We flew across the United States and to several countries internationally.. to seek out the truth of this folktale, this African diasporic dream about people who could fly. We photographed, filmed, asked questions, wandered, dreamed, met people. It was exploratory..
It was everything I’m doing now with The Black Portlanders.
I loved it. I loved every part of it. I believed it was real in that the story was the outward telling of a true and real as this day.. inner desire and envisioning of who we are. Stories are able to access that within us, that can never be altered or moved… the heart of our matter,
I got out of college in winter of 2008.. and like many … I had to learn how to live.. and make a living. Life was challenging and even when it wasn’t so much challenging, there’s just the fact that sometimes on a journey you have to figure things out. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t always know what to do. You don’t always know where to go.
There’s this part at the beginning of “The People Could Fly” where the people lose their wings. Of course, I was not enslaved .. but a feeling of having lost something.. flight.. was there. Early in 2009 I lost my flight privileges suddenly and unexpectedly. What to do next? How would I continue The People Could Fly?
I didn’t really know.
Here I was having flown and now.. seemingly without flight. The flying was symbolic, but also practical.
Basically, I was really lost without my art for a while.. trying to make a way to do my dream.. to fund it myself.. trying to find a way to be myself. I’ve always had big arts dreams. Geographically broad arts dreams. Grand ideas.. scale and purpose.. that might really affect the world.
How would I get back to adventure from where I was? How would I create this large-scale art that had to do with places and dreams and people? How would I create these ideas that had never before been seen, but I believed could change, influence, love something?
Is there a manual for this kind of thing?
Is there a manual for a self-sewn adventure?
How do you get there from where you are?
I didn’t know, but I was figuring it out. I’ve spent the bulk of my 5 years out of school, in Portland. 3 years and 8 months to be exact about it. I didn’t know how I would get back to doing this work .. of adventuring and documenting the diaspora. I wasn’t finished with The People Could Fly, but ..
A year ago, I began photographing people of African descent in Portland. It came naturally. It was what I’d always done, but hadn’t been doing in PDX. I began to use my camera again, to photograph and talk to people as I’d done in Memphis, Atlanta, Connecticut, Djibouti, Senegal.. other places. I fell back into adventure, story.
The Black Portlanders wasn’t planned. It came from a feeling and need to feel something about being Black.. here in Portland. I needed desperately, I think, to feel something. I felt numb from many things, the largest of which was not doing my art.. doing things to fund my arts dreams, but not actually doing my art.
Somehow, without even thinking about it, I was back doing what I had always done… and loved to do. Somehow my art found me again… The People Could Fly found me, in Portland, in the form of The Black Portlanders. How did it happen.
It seemed The People Could Fly, a documentary adventure on the global African diaspora found a need, and specificity in Portland. This lens on Black presence was needed here. How did this mashup occur? I don’t know.
I’ve had years now to think about and study this folktale. I’ve looked at it from so many sides. I tried to see what it means today.
One question I’ve asked myself and imagined on is .. What happened to the people who could fly? Where are they now? Where did they go? Did they go back to Africa? Did they keep traveling? Did they go to Spain? Why assume they’d never been to America before?
What would that mean? And through time.. where, what would The People Could Fly be today?
It helps to interrogate fictional stories as real life occurrences.
Second, what if the people who could fly, were needed at any given time.?The story itself, the myth, was needed by those who told it. It was the spoken manifested nature of their dream.
When and where is “a story” needed? When is what’s inside of a story needed, for any group of people?
Could it be that stories emerge in a specific time of need or development of people?
Why would a story re-emerge, not just in tale, but in real life action?
I loved that story.
I loved The People Could Fly and everything I thought it meant.
I loved the works of Virginia Hamilton, her commitment to crafting stories that spoke about African American dreams, presences, experiences. Her works were largely fictional, but always true.
Maybe you don’t know the twists and turns of your own story. I can’t leave myself out. I was telling a friend that.. somehow I, a photographer with a personal mission of documenting the African diaspora, ended up in Portland, a state Black people were legally banned from moving to .. flying to.. until 1927. Portland with a Black population of 6%.. Oregon, with a Black population of 2%. How did that happen? Somehow I moved to a specific community within the African diaspora, that I believe now needed this work.. needed The People Could Fly. How did this happen? I really didn’t plan it.
The Black Portlanders is The People Could Fly.. in a localized format. The Black Portlanders is The People Could Fly for one city. Some aspects of the approach are different. I’m not always asking people “What does flight mean to you?” or “Have you ever had flying dreams?” but the practice and the intent on arts innovation that affirms people is the same. The use and investigation of the story art is the same. The wandering and asking, the curiosity. The seeing people… the adventure, the adventure, the adventure.The Black Portlanders is one The People Could Fly Project. The Black Portlanders is A People Could Fly Project.
How did that happen?
I can only have a kind of appreciation to something.
What is it? Would it be the emergence or life-force or art?
The staying power of passion? Would it be the survival impulse of story, of dreams?
What keeps the impulse in you to do something? What’s art’s survival instinct?
What moves the story of a life? What moves the story of my life?
What in life unpuzzles a puzzle?
And very importantly, how much work does it take to carry a story, to bring it to life?
I know I go on and on.
I just feel really appreciative. I’ve said this before, but it means so much to me that this work, The Black Portlanders, means something to people in the city of Portland.
It affirms all the questions, work, and the learning I did with The People Could Fly Project.
It proved to me in a very personal way that this form of finding storytelling and adventure I’ve been going after can have actual effect.
This means EVERYTHING.
It means I’ve in one way or another been doing the right thing.. however far off the path I’ve seemed to go in pursuit of this.
The People Could Fly is/was a real life journey. I meant it to be..
and it seems it’s been happening all along. If a journey is a real journey..
I want to keep doing this work, keep finding these stories, keep finding us wherever we are.. Oregon, Portland, Eugene.. beyond. It’s a certain kind of love.
Right now I am crowd-sourced funding The Black Portlanders to raise $15,000 for the continued documentation and evolution of The Black Portlanders.
The Black Portlanders is A People Could Fly Project, in the spectrum of People Could Fly Projects. These are true storyings about the dreamings and migrations of people in the African diaspora.
We have 4 more days to go to get The Black Portlanders fully-funded.
I need your help - and anyone’s help you can think of - to continue creating The Black Portlanders. I believe it’s important. I believe Black Portlanders are important .. within the spectrum of the world.
What will these images of Black Portlanders, a city-wide portrait, mean in 20, 50, 100 years?
What will these images mean to Portland then?
This is what you’re investing in.
Please contribute to this project. Please help me complete this work.
4 more days to $15,000. $5,255 down. $9745 to go.
Let’s get fully funded.
Photographer-Storyteller at The Black Portlanders