by Lonnie Dawkins
Ask me about music and you will quickly find out that my all time favorite musician is Nina Simone. One of my favorite songs by her is “Images”. It is a powerful song with the idea that sometimes people don’t know their beauty……because they can’t see their image.
I taught high school one year. It was at an alternative high school. Students had been removed from their home schools temporarily because of discipline issues. I believe that the cause of some of the discipline issues was that the students did not know their image – their beauty, their potential.
I started taking pictures of some of the students. Some were reluctant to be photographed perhaps because of previous experiences and were afraid that they might be mocked. Some were more than ready to be photographed but wanted to pose in some very thuggish negative poses. I insisted in posing them doing positive things and in poses that showed clearly the beauty of their faces, braids, and smiles. Those who were reluctant to be posed at first saw their images and wanted more and more pictures taken. Those who had wanted to pose in negative poses saw their pictures and then sought out opportunities to be photographed talking to teachers and reading books etc.
I took lots of pictures of different students and then framed and hung them gallery style in the cafeteria. It looked like a very important exhibit. Students were proud of their pictures. Behavior problems did not come to a halt but a lot of the students saw their beauty for the first time.
Nina Simone sang a song that was about maids not seeing their beauty because there were no rivers. It inspired me to take pictures of young people because there was no rivers handy and definitely no palm trees.
She does not know
She thinks her brown body
Has no glory.
If she could dance
Under palm trees
And see her image in the river
She would know.
But there are no palm trees
On the street,
And dishwater gives back no images.
(1964) Nina Simone, Waring Cuney
As a photographer I deal with so many people (not just young people) who have problems with their image – who really don’t think they are beautiful I think we just need to take more pictures. What do you think?
Lonnie Dawkins is a Maryland based portrait photographer.