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POMPANO BEACH (CBSMiami) – If you look into the faces of the men, women and children captured in the ‘Black Florida’ photo exhibit at Bailey Contemporary Arts, you can feel their history; deeply personal stories that are the fabric of a colorful and dynamic community.
One image is of a woman who picked beans to put her sister through school. Another shows a female barber at work in a tiny corner of her home.
“I was really impressed with how comfortable she is with the space that she’s using,” said Johanne Rahaman, the photographer who captured them all.
Rahaman is an office administrator during the week, but moonlights as a cultural photographer on the weekends, documenting African American communities throughout Florida, stepping into their homes and deeply personal spaces. She is two years into a journey she anticipates will take two decades.
“Even though we’re from marginalized communities, we have another story to tell, which is, we are bigger than that, we are more complex than just a story of ghetto life,” said Rahaman.
Rahaman uses the lens to tell the stories you don’t usually see on the news, the ones you hear about in private conversations with friends and family members.
Rahaman says she strives to capture community and joy, “People figuring out a way to make due with what they have. It’s the age old story of the working class community. It’s the story of my community that I grew up in in Trinidad, and my family. It seems like a slum from the outside, where I come from. But on the inside, we don’t see it that way.”
Rahaman’s images, known as the Black Florida Project, caught the attention of Sarah Benichou, curator and director at Bailey Contemporary Arts. She was struck by the parallels between Rahaman’s work, and a collection of 150 negatives from the 1930s that she found in the archives of the African American Research Library and Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale.
“There’s so much dignity and character and originality in these images,” said Benichou. “Often, when you have images that are this old, there’s not the same kind of connection with the photographer that there clearly is in this collection.”
Last year, Benichou developed the old negatives into prints, retouched them herself, and put them on exhibit, showcasing the history of the black community of Pompano Beach. She recognized the same qualities in Rahaman’s work, and reached out to her, asking her to document the present day black community in Pompano Beach.
Rahaman didn’t know about the old photos before, but immediately drew inspiration from them.
“I hope that one day, someone will be using these images for something of this nature,” she said. “It’s very encouraging to see this.”
Nearly a century apart in time, it’s hard to miss the parallels between the two bodies of work.
“There’s a lot of physical closeness, and familial closeness and community closeness that is in these images that give them so much warmth, that I think give them just by accident, Johanne also focuses on too, because it’s just such a strong emotion, and it’s so demonstrative in the connection of the people that she sees, and it’s something that you see from five generations ago still in this community in Pompano, is this closeness,” said Benichou.
On the day the photos were hung, the first visitors recognized their family members in the images, an experience the artists hope will continue for years to come.
“This community is a very, very vibrant community, and has something special in it, in that it often goes back five generations, which is something very beautiful and dynamic, so to have an opportunity to celebrate that, is something that really fulfills the mission of this space,” said Benichou.
Rahaman finds the subjects in her photos in different ways, including Instagram. She has also been interviewing them on her iPhone, compiling history for future generations.
The Bailey Contemporary Arts Center is located at 41 NE 1st St, Pompano Beach, FL 33060, USA. There will be an opening reception for the free exhibit Friday, March 3, 2017 and it will be on display through the end of March.
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