Now on display in the University of Maine’s Innovative Media Research and Commercialization Center (IMRC) is the “Kneeling Art Photography Project,” an evocative exhibit documenting people from all over the globe and all walks of life in the ongoing collective struggle to bring about meaningful societal change. The project, which was kicked off this past May in Portland, Maine, has travelled to a few other locations in the state, including Waterville.
The project’s architect, Titi de Baccarat, is a seasoned multimedia artist and has put together an intriguing and influential body of work. For the “Kneeling Art Photography Project,” he’s explored the connection between the symbolic nature of taking a knee in relation to the death of George Floyd that occurred in May of 2020, and what that means to people from all over Maine.
The exhibit features a collection of 10 sets of ten photographs, each paired with an excerpt from the subject’s statement on the significance of kneeling. To tackle this immense undertaking, Baccarat engaged with 10 photographers, all from Maine and each with a unique perspective that really manifests itself in their photography.
The photographs themselves are wonderfully diverse, featuring a spectrum of angles, locations and, most importantly, subjects. The photographers have captured a wide range of people including UMaine’s Jill Pelto, an artist whose works have graced the cover of Time magazine, as well as immigrants, business owners, activists and service and frontline health care workers.
Some of the photographs are staged and feature stunning backgrounds, while others are more spur of the moment pieces. All are accompanied by a quote from the subject, giving them the space to express their frustrations, hopes, injustices faced and opinions on kneeling. The fight for equality and the struggle for greater community based action seemed to be common themes.
Most photographers seemed to recognize that kneeling itself was not enough.
“An ally with the courage of their implied convictions goes further,” said Phil Savage, the subject of a photograph captured by photographer Rose Barboza. “Only then can that symbol reach its potential.”
The project was a unique opportunity for photographers, too, as they were able to convey their own ideas and support for the wider movement through their work. Photographer Tim Greenway had his own view on how he perceives the movement this project touched upon.
“It’s about respect and equal rights for everyone in America,” said Greenway. “To show support for the movement to end racial inequality has built community through creating the photographs, the exhibit openings and the dialogue and actions inspired from the project.”
Greenway also stressed the importance of empathy, respect, awareness and hopes that others will take their actions to help promote equality.
Dr. Susan Smith, director of the intermedia program at UMaine, echoed a similar sentiment that Greenway did.
“I’m hoping that by looking at these images people will soften-up on each other, and discover what we all have in common,” said Smith. “Both people like me and unlike me, uniting against a common issue.”
Ultimately, that’s what the exhibit is about; bringing people together so that they may share their experiences and attempt to bring about change.
“I hope this exhibit will inspire people to share their stories and be heard, because we as a campus support all voices, and want people to feel free to share their stories,” said Smith.
The exhibit includes filtered, multicolored lights and use of a projector and screen utilizing the area to great effect.
James Winters, an artist and educator, along with a dedicated crew of UMaine graduate students set up the space prior to the big opening on Sept. 7. The opening night was quite an affair, drawing a crowd, while photographers and speakers discussed the works. There was even an accompanying violin concert.
The “Kneeling Art Photography Project” exhibit will be open to the public on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. until the end of the month.