Johnnie Chatman '18

i forgot where we were...

Excerpt from a thesis by Johnnie Chatman

Grand Canyon , 2017

Grand Canyon, 2017

I Forgot Where We Were... uses constructs and idioms of the West and western landscape photography as allegorical elements to facilitate a conversation on black identity as it reconfigures itself against media, historical, and trans-global narratives. Vantage points around the West act as intersectional beacons for explorations of culture, history and consumerism, as rich histories are compressed into marketable cultural capital.

Great Sand (South), 2017

Great Sand (South), 2017

In pursuing this route my project explores the ambiguity and multiplicity of blackness oscillating between a space of romance and critique, objective research and personal narrative. The dialogue produced between what is said and what is not - creates meaning that is as complicated as it subtle, ironic or conflicting. Through this, it is never assured that the act of signifying will yield for the audience the desired payoff. Representation of the black body in the context of the American West - that has too often been, as Neil Campbell describes, defined by binary and reductionist grids of thought and image when, in fact, it’s more than geography, it is a complex, unstable signifier that has been given meaning by those who have lived within it, passed through it, conquered it, settled, farmed, militarized, urbanized, and dreamed it.

Arches , 2017

Arches, 2017

From the choice of black and white self portraits, to the clothing and posture of the body, the body of work reminds us of the constructed-ness of the real, the fact that a thing is being represented. The work aims to position a conversation outside of the restricted understanding of black expression through the limitations and expectations of outward expression and resistance. With the creation of an ambiguous space, a seemingly romantic fascination is met with an examination of the past and present through metaphorical representations of history, time and the landscape.

Rhyolite , 2017

Rhyolite, 2017

As writer Michael Johnson once questioned,

> The American West with its landscapes that invite identification but do not offer definition and with its absence of black communities, provides a particularly appropriate setting for a post-soul interrogation of black identity. The walls of the gorge are as concrete as black people and white people, but what if one’s sense of self falls in the space between these concrete defining categories? Even if a vast space of possible identities exists between these two positions, how does one establish a definable and stable sense of self in the face of such vastness?

*To see more of his work, please visit*