“Slices of life through the prism of the heart”
Written by Anne Lerardi | November 8, 2012 | www.thebarstablepatriot.com
Mark Person’s photographs capture his perspective on life growing up in rural Alabama and Georgia: his dreams, his family, his faith. An enthusiastic crowd gathered at the Zion Union Heritage Museum in Hyannis Nov. 2 for the opening of his solo show, “Staying Grounded.” Mark warmly greeted me, leading me through the exhibit, welcoming me into his world. “As a photojournalist,” he explains on his website, “I deeply feel an imperative to extrapolate and capture slices of life through the prism of the heart. I am a vessel, with Spirit and the wisdom of my ancestors moving through me.”
“Metaphor, how the image grabs you, is most central to my work,” he said. He brings me over to a close-up photo of a cotton plant. “I was driving on an assignment as a photojournalist and was lost. There I came face to face with this field of cotton and I realized, ‘This is my roots. I must never forget where I came from.’”
As a white kid from Boston, I first saw pictures of cotton in the Sixties when a special curriculum on “Negro” history and slavery was introduced in my ninth grade civics class; the images and stories deeply impacted me. Seeing these buds of cotton through Mark’s lens, I saw not only the struggle but also the beauty. In Person’s words, “Beauty and metaphor are everywhere.”
Next, Mark pointed out a picture of a wooden house. “I used to sit on that porch with my grandfather as a child,” he said. “He encouraged me to dream.” Next to that photo was the newly erected sculpture of Martin Luther King in Washington: Dr. King, arising out of the massive stone, his deep voice echoing the biblical witness, the overcoming of oppression, that can emanate out of one person’s dream.
I am particularly struck by a large photograph of a family, a very large family of many generations. They are proudly holding a banner: “Chandler Family Reunion.” I learn from Mark that he is from a family of 10. “There’s my older sister; she believed in me and helped me get my first job. In the front row are my mother and her sisters.” Mark has a special way of releasing the image to a broader consciousness. Metaphor speaks to the heart as well as to the mind. Mark’s family becomes my equally large Italian-American family and from there we become one family embracing all humankind.
Mark pointed out a portrait of three of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American military aviators in the United States armed forces. “I interviewed the man in the middle. They were courageous and highly skilled. They weren’t allowed to serve in combat because of the racial attitudes in 1941. They are all in their nineties now.”
A large central wall of the museum has three pieces. In the middle I am fixed on a foreboding stark stone structure with bars over the entrance and the words MART and underneath “OLD SLAVE MART MUSEUM.” To the left is a photo of a St. Francis sculpture and to the right a statue of Christ in the midst of tall flowing reeds, arms outstretched in a welcome. While I am arrested by this metaphor of human suffering, I take refuge on either side from Francis, the saint of peace and Jesus, the man of compassion.
Mark has found another home on Cape Cod: “I found my passion on Cape Cod Bay in the winter of 2010,” he writes on his website. “With my Blackberry, I snapped a photo while meditating on a glorious sunset over the still water. Something ‘clicked’ in me, too, a profound sense of hope and peace that a new dawn was about to break.”
Mark Person is a multi-faceted artist. He is involved in publishing and has created an upcoming book, Finding Peace through Photography. He also founded Middleman Productions, to manage and promote top recording artists. From Jan. 30 through Feb. 17, he will have another exhibit at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod in Yarmouth, with an opening Feb. 2. Two concerts of his recording artists will also take place there, on Feb. 9 and 16.
Zion Union Heritage Museum is a living witness to the stories that have shaped and continue to shape African-American and Cape Verdean lives. It is a place for all of us to connect to our humanity. In Dr. King’s words, “Until all are free, none are free.”
You will be richly rewarded for availing yourself of the time to visit the museum at 276 North St. in Hyannis (508-790-9466). “Staying Grounded: The Photography of Mark Person” will be on exhibit through Feb. 28.