When he was a star with The Alvin Ailey Dance Company, Richard Witter came to the studio to work with me. I think the photographs that came from our collaboration speak for themselves, and for Witter himself.
The point of this blog is to say, first of all, that there is a bell-shaped curve that can be applied to many more things than statistics. The top, and, generally, center of the curve shows where most things fall…in other words, the norm. In measuring talent, on rare occasions, there is an outlier off the right side of the curve, someone so outstanding, unusual and phenomenal that no one else on the curve comes close.
Richard Witter is one of those “outliers.”
Second: If you have a chance to work with such a fantastic talent, do not let him or her go. Hang on for the ride, since the trip will be something unforgettable and artistically sensational.
I have written before that a photograph is only as good as its weakest element. In order to create a magnificent image, everything in it must work magnificently. And, the most important element is the “star.” Witter so brilliantly captures the viewer’s eye that he made possible one wonderful image after another.
And, finally (he really did this!).
I was lucky enough to find him and smart enough to hold on.
A book of outdoor studio portraits, made over the course of 25 years, from the Folsom Street Fair
Black history month day 28: American astronaut Mae Jemison.
Mae Carol Jemison was born on October 17, 1956 in Decatur, Alabama. When she was three years old, her family moved to Chicago, Illinois for better employment and education opportunities. Jemison was always interested in science and dreamed of going to space from a young age. Once when she was little a splinter infected her thumb. Her teacher mother turned it into a learning experience and she ended up doing a whole project about pus.
While Jemison’s parents were always very supportive of her scientific interests, her teachers were not. Jemison once recalled: “In kindergarten, my teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I told her a scientist. She said, ‘Don’t you mean a nurse?’ Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a nurse, but that’s not what I wanted to be.”
Jemison went to Stanford University when she was just 16 and graduated with a B.S. in chemical engineering. She received her doctor of medicine degree at Cornell Medical College in 1981. During medical school she traveled to Cuba, Kenya and Thailand, to provide primary medical care to people living there.
Jemison first applied for the space program in 1983 after the flight of Sally Ride. The program was delayed after the space shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986, but she was accepted into the program after reapplying in 1987, one of 15 applicants out of 2000. One of her biggest inspirations for pursuing the space program was African-American actress Nichelle Nichols, better known as Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek. Later Jemison would go on to guest star in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, becoming the only actual astronaut to appear on the show.
As a lover of dance, Jemison took a poster from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater along with her on the flight saying: “Many people do not see a connection between science and dance, but I consider them both to be expressions of the boundless creativity that people have to share with one another. She also took some small art objects from West African countries to symbolize that space belongs to all nations, and a picture of African-American pilot Bessie Coleman.
Jemison is now 60 years old and currently serving as the principle of the 100 Year Starship organization.
I sincerely hope you have enjoyed going on this educational journey with me this month, exploring 28 inspiring figures in black history. It was a lot of fun for me to do research for this project and I learned quite a few things along the way. I really tried to get at least some figures who are less commonly discussed during Black history month. There is a lot of information I didn’t get to cover, so I would strongly encourage you to read up on everybody I’ve mentioned this month because they have some very interesting stories to tell!