Friday, February 14, 2020

Making A Statement On Racism With Toy Photos

Go back in your mind to the early 19780s in Ontario Canada and imagine a little boy watching TV and stumbling across a show about two cousins who fight a comedically corrupt mayor and bumbling sheriff by driving fast around their county in an orange sports car with a fancy flag on the roof.

I bet you imagine that kid falling in love with that show.  As that kid I can tell you that the Dukes of Hazzard became one of my most favourite shows on TV. The car, known as the General Lee, was my favourite vehicle.  I also knew that the fancy flag that dominated the roof was a confederate flag, but at the time it didn't bother me so much.

Growing up in Canada I had no real concept of racism.  I knew slavery was a thing, but I thought it mostly died out during the Civil War.  I also knew about Martin Luther King Jr and the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s.  However I wasn't exposed to racism on a daily basis, so I assumed, surely, the "greatest nation on earth" would have solved that problem by now.

Sometime along the way I picked up a model of the General Lee.  It was a memento of my favourite show from my childhood, and I thought nothing of it.  It sat in its see-thru box on a shelf in my office for years.

Fast forward to 2008 when I moved to North Carolina, USA, with my wife, and we started settling down and raising a family.  Living here,  it slowly dawned on me that the "greatest nation on earth", who I thought had solved its racism problem a long time ago, didn't. 

After Trump's campaign made it OK for people to be openly assholes again some folks in my area started driving around trucks with big confederate flags flying on the back.  Then in Virginia the Klan held an open rally and waved that flag, right along side the swastika, killing several people in the process.  I couldn't live with my assumptions that racism wasn't really a problem anymore.

Racism is alive and well in America, and the confederate flag was one of its biggest symbols*.  I was no longer proud to have that flag on a car on my shelf anymore.

This was extra unfortunate as, with the flag removed, the show and the car is actually quite fun, and as a toy photographer I really wanted to make images with it.  It is a sexy car, and would look great on camera.  However I could not reconcile the idea of taking a shot of a car with such a famously racist symbol on the roof. Even if I didn't actually show the roof in the frame, the flag was so iconic it would come to mind for anyone viewing my image. (I had actually considered Photoshopping a different flag onto it, but that still didn't feel right.)

So fast forward to January 2020 when I needed a car to shoot for the Photography Scavenger Hunt.  I wracked my brain for ideas, and as you can imagine, the General Lee model on my shelf kept creeping into my mind. 

Over the few months previous I have been watching some tutorials on about how to age and rust up cars using paint and other techniques.  Finally it clicked how I could shoot this car.  Make it old.  Make it rusted.,  Make it abandoned in the woods.

So that is what I did.

Now that car, with its racist symbology, isn't a shiny object of envious desire with a proud owner.  It is a relic.  A rusted, beat up, shell of a car that no one loves anymore, abandoned and forgotten. Waiting for the natural world to reclaim it.  Just as racism is an outdated pathetic, rusted out idea that that needs to be abandoned and forgotten. 

That is how I ended up shooting a car I've loved since childhood as an abandoned hunk of junk, and appeasing my conscience in the process.

Fuck racism.

*  There are so many reasons that the confederate flag is such a problem. Those that fly it have serious issues with understanding history, logic, reason, and what patriotism means. Being racist is just their biggest offense, and the only one that is unacceptable.