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‘Witnessing Resistance’: Healing the community with photos and conversations

A local photographer who took photos before, during and after the deadly Aug. 12, 2017, white supremacist “Unite The Right” rally spoke on the opening night of an exhibit of work he hopes that will help heal from the trauma on July 1 at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center.

Eze Amos, a Charlottesville-based photojournalist who hails from Nigeria, presented his work titled “Witnessing Resistance” to a crowd of about 80 people and took questions from them.

The event featured 18 printed photographs that showed people peacefully protesting the white supremacist rally. There were no photos that depicted violence.

Amos did not even see the photos in the exhibit until a month ago.

“I just put them away for a reason because I just didn’t want to see them,” Amos said. “I knew somewhere in the back of my mind that I was going to go back and deal with those photos. Five years for me—I thought it would be a good point for me to go back and revisit those things.”

Amos, who has taken photos for The New York Times, NPR, Getty Images and The Washington Post, took over 9,000 photos during the events of Aug. 12, said that the process of narrowing down the number to just 18 demanded patience and empathy.

“I tried to pick the right photos that told the story of that day and things that happened before, during and after those events in a way that would take people back to that time,” Amos said. “To show them what happened without necessarily showing all this gruesome, crazy, violent stuff that happened and most importantly, not showing a single photo of one of those crazy people that came to town.”

The idea of the project was to present the chronological order of the events while simultaneously encouraging people to start talking about the major mistakes that many believe were made in response to the torch rally and Saturday’s deadly riot and how the community can grow from them.

For Amos personally, the idea was also to be able to talk about what he saw and to tell his story.

The photographer said he hopes that his pictures will start the healing process by initiating important conversations.

“We have to start talking about it. We cannot lock stuff up and hope that it magically goes away,” he said.

One visitor asked how the photojournalist deals with feelings when he is shooting such photos.

The photojournalist shared that he was scared for his life while photographing the white supremacists.

Amos was punched in the face by a man, who he later photographed, who came from Tennessee to protest the removal of the statue. The attacker wore a T-shirt that had a swastika and Hitler’s face on it, Amos said.

He later emphasized the significance of being able to share his photos at the Jefferson School.

“I can’t think of any other place in this community than the Jefferson Center to house an exhibit like this,” Amos said. This is the one institution that I know that is designed to actually deal with this kind of stuff that concerns local people of Charlottesville, people of color and most of the people who were really affected by some of the stuff that happened during August 11-12.”

The presenter expressed gratitude to all of the activists and front-line protesters who contributed to the creation of this exhibit.

“The reason I’m saying that is, first of all, I am with them and I am a part of them,” Amos said. The last time I checked I am still Black, so this affects me. I identify with everything they identify with. With them being on my side and me being on their side I was able to get good directions in communication with them when those guys [white supremacists] were in town. So I could show up there supporting the people protesting and documenting it at the same time.”

Andrea Douglas, the executive director of the Jefferson School, toward the end of the talk, mentioned the “Swords into Plowshares” project aimed at melting down the statue of Robert E. Lee and using the material to make a new work of public art.

Douglas shared cards with visitors that contain QR codes which direct the users to a survey where Charlottesville-area citizens can express how new art can support the community, what history should the new art honor and which local places residents find welcoming.

“It’s our goal along with other members of the community,” Douglas said. “We’re not just doing this by ourselves—we have created a coalition of organizations that are working with us to help us get to the place where we are making the decisions about how we heal, where we are looking to art to help us speak a different kind of level language—a love language that is about our collective experience, which is what I think this exhibition is about as well. It’s about our collective experience. No one else can tell us what we experienced. No one knows. We’re the only ones that can make the decisions about what we want in our public space.”


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