The Art of History - B. Varsylvia James

The Art of History

It was photo challenge time again and last one was spring of 2017. We started these challenges to work our craft, fellowship, have fun and explore our environment. When we talk about our challenges with other photographers they think we are talking about a photo walk. Is there a difference between photo walk vs. photo challenge. Yes, a walk is confined to one area, our challenges, you don't know where we might end up. This year's photo challenge theme was "Junk." How can you turn junk into art? Right.


Our journey started and ended with being thrown out of three junk yards. We followed their protocol, and we realized that we weren't given the level of respect as artists. One location we went to asked for our credentials and still throw us out. So, we traveled to Baltimore.


A fellow photojournalist asked me "do I go looking for a story or do I let the story come to you?" I really never put into perspective how I recorded a story! I know I gave her an answer, "I let the story find me." It's more challenging.


Our travels lead us to revisited the neighborhood of the Freddie Gray Riots. Three years ago our photo challenge was "After the Riot". Today, the CVS is now closed. There was a mom and pop restaurant that had great food, closed. The homes were boarded up. No revitalization.


There was still life in the neighborhood, with mostly abandoned homes and a heavy drug presence. A resident saw us, as he was hiding his drugs, and was not sure why we were there nor who we were. So he asked, and we told him that we were on assignment to find junk and turn it into art. He was relieved that we were not the police and became interested in us by telling us his story. He wouldn't let us take his photo, but he made sure that we were not bothered.


I decided to move my vehicle off the street into a alley, so it would be closer to where we were shooting. We were getting Damari (Dion's son) ready to do a mini shoot; when, from the alley, Dion (my photo challenge partner) saw these men walking down the street. It was the men from the Nation of Islam.


The Nation of Islam Men of Baltimore were on a mission with their presence, high energy and dedication to the broken neighborhood. The men were canvassing and giving out their newspaper, "The Final Call."


We both ran out the alley, to capture this moment. When we caught up with the gentlemen we asked would they allow us the opportunity to tell their story.


As a woman, I wasn't sure that they would be opened to working with me, but that was not the case. The National of Islam Men of Baltimore treated me with great respect, as a woman, an African American queen, their sister, a photojournalist and photographer.


What makes the so special and important to me, is earlier that day, Dion and I had an in-depth conversation about the end results of marches today, African American leaders and where we are as a people. Ironically, The Nation of Islam was apart of that conversation and we got to witness them working in a community.


Again, with our photo challenges, you don't know what story will come to you. We photographers, have a respect for each other and how we capture the moment. The Nation of Islam Men had their own photographers and they enjoyed the interaction with us.


Capturing us capture them. It was a moment, and when it ended, they continued with their journey within the community. Me and my camera watched and recorded their departure and it reminded me of the movie Malcolm X.


Dedicated, disciplined and power.