The Portland Art Museum is featuring works of six BIPOC photographers made during the racial justice protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd in 2020. The photos in the “Perspectives” exhibit seek to elevate the stories of people of color, both in the background of the protests but also in the context of how those in BIPOC communities continue to be affected by the coronavirus pandemic. We talk with photographers Daveed Jacobo and Linneas Boland-Godbey to hear more about their experiences and their work.
The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer:
Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud. I’m Dave Miller. We turn now to the “Perspectives” exhibit that’s up right now at the Portland Art Museum. It features the works of six photographers of Color that were taken during the summer and into the fall of 2020 – a time of racial justice protests and pandemic dislocation. The photos in the exhibit seek to elevate the stories of People of Color, both in the midst of tear-gas-filled protests and in quieter moments. I’m joined now by two of the photographers whose work is featured: Daveed Jacobo and Linneas Boland-Godbey. Welcome to Think Out Loud. Daveed first: How did this exhibit come to be?
Daveed Jacobo: I had already been shooting during the summer, just trying to document the protests. One of my coworkers and friends was inspired by what I was doing, what I was taking the photographs – but, noticing also, that there was a lack of representation of BIPOC artists, BIPOC photographers, within the media. She just sent off an email to the Portland Art Museum about what they are doing to represent BIPOC photographers. And they asked her, “Well, do you have any ideas?”
We got together – her and I – and we just worked out a plan to find other BIPOC photographers like myself, to see what they had to show for their work. That was in like June 2020 and then we decided – we sort of talked back and forth about what an exhibit would look like. At first, it was like this online exhibit where everybody could put in pictures. And then it turned into – why don’t we paste outside of the museum.
Miller: Oh, just basically kind of guerilla-style, make your own exhibit outside the museum?
Jacobo: Exactly. Because it was during the COVID – when we couldn’t go inside anywhere. Then it turned – once we discussed about, well, now we can go inside – this was like 2021 – maybe we’ll do it in the photography gallery. Slowly again, it just – through Julia Dolan, who is the photo curator – she had discussed it with all her people inside and it finally turned into this thing where like, why don’t we have it as the main exhibit? We kept pushing back dates. We finally were able to have it as something that was bigger than what we expected.
Miller: After having this be in the works for so long, do you remember the moment you actually walked in and saw all of this work on these walls the first time?
Jacobo: Yeah, it was pretty surreal and it’s still pretty surreal now. I think that’s probably the word we would most use – out of all the photographers. Just seeing our work come alive on these walls brings a different perspective, brings a different feeling, than just like what we would see on our – because I would share it on my phone, right? That’s how I would see my pictures. But, this was –
Miller: Way bigger.
Jacobo: Way bigger, grander scale.
Miller: And in community, too, right? I mean, it’s not it’s not just your work. It’s you and five others, in addition to actually a number of other photographers from the collection. Linneas Boland-Godbey, I’m curious about the same question for you. What was it like when you saw all these photos – including yours – all up there talking to each other on the walls?
Linneas Boland-Godbey: I think it was surreal, because we didn’t just document what was happening in 2020, we’re documenting what happened in 2021 as well. I think when we saw all of our work – I remember Teressa Raiford, who interviewed all of us the next day – when we all – because she was also there at the – when we all got to see our work. She started to cry and I had to hug her because she was so emotional and she was so happy, because a lot of the artwork brought a lot of memories back. It was a lot of just like, wow, that was just a few months ago. Like, I remember that day exactly, I remember that situation. There was a lot of situations where we were amazed and astonished, but it also brought back a lot of memories.
A lot of us had to take a second because we’re just like, we finally get to tell our story because a lot of media especially has this narrative of what really happened. And the thing was – [inaudible] also good – you don’t know the real story unless you’re down there every day. So, instead of coming down there when the flash bangs go off, actually get the real story about what’s going on. We helped with fire relief, we helped with feeding the homeless. It was funny how people assumed that there was – that the protests were causing all the homelessness before. And I’m just like – as a Portlander – homelessness was a big issue before that, and now that people were dealing with COVID, now you notice it. I’m just like, yes, it’s worse than it was before, but can’t blame a whole protest for that, considering the fact that you all ignored it until then.
Miller: Linneas, a lot of the photos in the exhibition focus on the protests, but yours are a little bit different. They’re more focused on people’s experiences broadly – in that time – in the summer, and the fall, in the time that followed – from a series that you call “Masks of Color.” Can you describe the project?
Boland-Godbey: I got the idea from the protests. I would take people – I even took some people out of the protest. The overall objective of the project “Masks of Color” was to showcase how People of Color were dealing and coping with COVID-19 and wearing masks. Because, I feel like when it came to regular Western media, they neglected to ask families of Color how they were coping. So, I decided to make my own projects. At the time I was documenting the protest, so I took people from the protest out and interviewed some of them. Not only was I documenting the protests through my photography, I was also – I became more focusing on having People of Color, their families, etcetera – just whether you’re Black, Asian, Muslim, or Latino, etcetra – about how they were coping with with COVID-19 and that’s how I got more into “Masks of Color.”
Miller: Daveed, you have a photo – a really striking one – there’s a house in the background, and then one woman has her fist raised, another who is, I think, sitting on a truck, is holding a microphone to her side – she’s not talking into it, her eyes are closed. Can you describe that scene and what was going on that day?
Jacobo: It was a mixture of anger, music, dance, celebration. There was a lot of energy, a lot of young kids just expressing what they thought about the protests and what George Floyd and Black Lives Matter meant to them. I think for – in that way, people were just switching off, like I’m gonna talk now and then someone would come in and talk or dance or sing or something. It was sort of like what – maybe encapsulated a little bit what the protest meant to me. It was just a lot of energy, a lot of wanting to get something out, and I think that’s kind of what the photo was – meant to me. I don’t know what else to say, except it was just a lot of energy.
Miller: You know, I was struck by something that you’ve both touched on here about some question about time – because this was not that long ago. It was two years ago and a month maybe. But, when something is put up on a museum wall, it almost seems like it automatically becomes a vision of the past. It’s transformed in a way on a museum wall, to be not really from our time anymore, even though these things are our of our time. Daveed, I’m just wondering if you experience that. If, when you see these on a museum wall, if it seems more distant to you in terms of time?
Jacobo: I think that’s one of the feelings I had, too. It felt like, oh this is now just part of the past, even though to me, this is not what this work meant to be – was meant to be. I think both of us, Linneas and the other photographers, is like, this is about not forgetting. This is about continuing the work that we had back then. Yeah, it felt a little bit like, okay, now this is a different setting for these pictures. But, hopefully, with people going to see these photos, they have a sense of remembering what it was like, the feelings you had, the work you were probably doing, and just never forgetting about that. And maybe we can grow from it.
Miller: Linneas, what do you hope people will walk away from after experiencing these photos all together?
Boland-Godbey: Well, first, I want people to actually, when they get there, actually come with an open mind and open heart. Whether you agree with us or not, get our perspective of where we’re coming from, because I feel like there was a narrative the whole time that was happening during the protest. A lot of us were – and a lot of the featured artists – I think we can all agree that we were – we felt like, at the time, yes, big media companies were coming and showcasing what was going on. But I felt like it was a narrative to make the movement look bad and they were just there to get like, “Oh, the flash bang went off, so I will – I got my money shot and left.” But when it came to like – let’s say that we had like – we did car washes, we helped feed the homeless, we helped do BLM art therapy events in the park – which I put together. They didn’t care.
So I feel like, instead of coming down and assuming a narrative, come with an open heart. And don’t just come and look at the art – actually get the stories behind what’s going on, because this was not a joke to us. This was something serious. And I feel like all of us that were featured actually have the stories because when it comes to the reporters that were down there, they don’t know the real stories – we do. And if you want to get that context, a lot of us are at the Portland Art Museum all the time, showcasing, or just saying, “Hey, this is our artwork. Do you have any questions?” And whether you agree or not, we’re there to answer questions for you.
Miller: Have you actually had conversations like that?
Boland-Godbey: Yes, I have.
Miller: Any moments that stand out?
Boland-Godbey: I think it’s funny how people assume that everybody who protests is part of the group Antifa and I’m just like, a lot of us are anti-fascist, but we’re not part of Antifa. We’re doing it because we’re representing what – we’re sick and tired of people not understanding where we’re coming from. I’m not one to destroy anything and neither is Daveed, but we went down there to advocate for People of Color, and we did. A lot of people assume that due to this Western narrative from the media that they know the whole story. Get to know me, ask questions – same with Daveed. We’re easy to talk to, but assuming that we’re some – we’re a part of some big thing called – a group called Antifa is kind of funny to me.
Miller: Linneas Boland-Godbey and Daveed Jacobo, thanks very much.
Boland-Godbey: Thank you for having us.
Miller: Linnaeus Boland-Godbey and Daveed Jacobo are two of the six photographers whose work capturing what was happening in Portland in the summer and fall of 2020, and some of the time that followed – it is on display right now at the “Perspectives” exhibit at the Portland Art Museum.
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