In W.E.B. DuBois' "The Souls of Black Folk" he describes an early school experience, "... I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil"
"Schools for the Colored" is an extension of the ideas that formed the project "Small Towns, Black Lives," in that; it is a continuation of my journey through the African American landscape. I began making photographs of historically African American school buildings during the very first weeks of the "Small Towns, Black Lives" project more than twenty years ago. In "Schools for the Colored" I began to pay attention to the many structures and sites (also making photographs of places where segregated schools once stood) that operated as segregated schools.
These photographs depict the buildings and landscapes that were associated with the system of racially segregated schools established at the southern boundaries of the northern United States. This area, sometimes referred to as “Up-South,” encompasses the northern “free” states that bordered the slave states. "Schools for the Colored" is the representation the duality of racial distinction within American culture. The “veil” (the digital imaging technique of obscuring the landscape surrounding the schools) is a representation of DuBois’ concept, informing the visual narrative in these photographs. Some of the images depict sites where the original structure is no longer present. As a placeholder, I have inserted silhouettes of the original building or what I imagine of the appearance of the original building. The architecture and geography of America’s educational Apartheid, in the form of a system of “colored schools” is the central concern of this project, within the landscape of southern New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.
Fifty framed prints (10 images from each state) are available for exhibition.
The "Manifest" portfolio images are photo-based representations of objects, documents, photographs, and books made in various public and private collections throughout the U.S. These repositories encompass elements of material culture such as diaries, slave collars, human hair, a drum, souvenirs, and other objects, some with great significance and others simply quotidian representations of daily life, from the history of the African American community.
This project (Manifest) is an effort to seek out the cultural artifacts of the American concept and representation of race. The histories of slavery, abolition, segregation, the U.S. Civil War, and the Civil Rights Era are a few of the narratives that emerge in these photographs.
I am increasingly interested in the residual power of the past to inhabit these material remains. The ability of objects to transcend lives, centuries, and millennia, suggests a remarkable mechanism for folding time, bringing the past and the present into a shared space that is uniquely suited to artistic exploration. While the artifacts are remarkable as visual evidence of lives and events, I also intend the viewer to consider this informal reliquary as a survey of the impulse and motivation to preserve history and memory.
Several projects that have occupied my attention during the past two decades are, in retrospect, part of a broader effort to seek out the ghosts that continue to haunt the remnants of the past. I am drawn to the stories that dwell within these objects.
The photographs are made with a 4”x5”, film-based camera. The prints are pigment-based inkjet on paper. A recent book based on this work was published by Chroma (California Institute of Integral Studies) as Manifest and is available through the Chroma website. Selected images from portfolio are currently available for exhibition.
7 Steps to Freedom
"7 Steps to Freedom" was a commissioned public art project for the Salem County Cultural & Heritage Commission. This project was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.
From the 7 Steps website: "7 Steps to Freedom tells stories about the struggle against slavery from different points of view, including a Quaker abolitionist, Civil War soldiers, a young African American girl who became a poet and a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Seven locations around Salem County are associated with these narratives and can be visited by following the maps found at this website. Journey in the footsteps of these people and listen to their stories by cell phone in the places they knew. The 7 Freedom Stories can also be heard here on this site."
African Hebrew Israelites - Village of Peace
The photographs in this project were made in the African Hebrew Israelite community of Dimona, Israel. It was established more than 35 years ago by a group of African Americans from the Chicago area. They left the U.S. in the late 1960's, lived in Liberia for more than two years, and settled in Israel's Negev desert. The images in this portfolio describe various aspects of daily life.
Small Towns, Black Lives
The Small Towns Black Lives project consists of photographs with the use of narrative fragments and various archival materials. The images are presented as windows onto public and private lives – combined with text, they weave a visual representation of the present accompanied by the collective memories of the communities. Small Towns Black Lives is also a multimedia web based presentation that includes photography, text, archival documents, video, audio, and QuickTime VR.
The photography began as a modest attempt to depict daily events and activities. Shortly after beginning the project, I became aware of a cemetery not far from the college where I teach. Four of the five remaining headstones were marked as veterans of the Civil War and the United States Colored Troops. Information about the origins of the cemetery was difficult to find since there was no longer a black community at the site. My encounter with this neglected cemetery led to more formal research and genealogy as I attempted to reconstruct the story of the African American settlement that was once located at the far edge of Port Republic.
The information I accumulated on Port Republic’s black community prompted experiments with various formats for my work; the current prints often incorporate narrative passages with the photograph to describe aspects of the subject that could not otherwise be represented. Defining the format that would express the two forms of visual representation (seeing people and places with a camera and seeing people and places through documents and oral histories) has been an evolving process. My first exhibitions were presentations of the camera image and text side by side as in a diptych, printed onto separate pieces of photographic paper. As I began to use digital media, I found ways to bring the photograph and narrative panels into a single image. The current exhibition includes digital inkjet prints on which the image and the text are placed within opposing areas of dark grey and black and printed onto a single piece of paper. The photograph and text are joined in a manner that is quite different than the traditional diptych; the print hinges together the seen and unseen worlds of black experience within these few communities.
Wendel A. White was born in Newark, New Jersey and grew up in New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. He was awarded a BFA in photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York and an MFA in photography from the University of Texas at Austin. White is currently Distinguished Professor of Art at Stockton University in New Jersey.
He has received various awards and fellowships including a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in photography, three artist fellowships from the New Jersey State Council for the Arts, a photography grant from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, and a photography fellowship from En Foco Inc.
His work is represented in museums libraries, corporate, and private collections. White’s work is included in numerous publications including two books about his work, Manifest (published in 2014 by Chroma) and Small Towns, Black Lives (published in 2003 by the Noyes Museum of Art).
White has served on the board of directors for the Society for Photographic Education, the Atlantic City Historical Museum, New Jersey Black Culture and Heritage Foundation, and the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.
Click on any of the thumbnail images to launch the viewer. You can then navigate forward and backward within the portfolio by clicking the left or right side of the enlarged image. Click the add to collection checkbox to automatically add an image to your collection. Image tags or search engine keywords appear below the collections' checkbox and each word or phrase is a link to potentially more image matches.