Common, Bradford Young unveil short film ‘Black America Again’ at Carnegie Museum of Art
Written by Tene Croom on July 12, 2017
Black life in Pittsburgh from 1935 to 1975—the ills of a people disenfranchised, angered by wars, fists in the air shouting, “What is it good for?!”
Black life in Pittsburgh—Celebrities performing in the Hill District hotspot, the Crawford Grill—the images deftly captured on camera by the iconic Charles “Teenie” Harris.
The beloved photographer, who worked for the Pittsburgh Courier, is the subject of “Bradford Young: REkOGNIZE,” a three-channel installation at the Carnegie Museum of Art featuring Young’s footage of Pittsburgh’s Hill District, shots of Pittsburgh’s tunnels, and, of course, Teenie’s photos. REkOGNIZE premiered June 16 at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Oakland.
Nearly 1,000 people attended the event, which later featured a discussion on stage featuring Young and rapper Common.
The project by Young, an Academy Award nominee, explores photography, light and time. Divya Rao Heffley Hillman, Senior Program Manager of the Photography Initiative at the Carnegie, said the video explores the history, legacy and identity of the Hill District and was inspired by Teenie’s photos.
“Among the imagery you’ll see is Bradford’s own footage of the Hill District, as well as photographs taken by Teenie, as well as metadata from those photographs. He took 11 digital photographs and dropped them into a program that turned digital information into code,” Hillman said.
Young is the first African American cinematographer nominated for an Oscar for the hit science-fiction movie “Arrival.”
He went beyond the technical aspect of his work, explaining it’s about “Black intentionality.” Young, who studied film at Howard University, said he’d pondered over how to study Teenie’s intentions without him here to tell us.
“All I’m trying to do is use contemporary tools to sort of open up a whole unspoken conversation about the work for every generation, particularly young people to see his work,” Young told the New Pittsburgh Courier.
Before Young came to Pittsburgh he was inspired by the lighting of Harris’ photographs. Now the Louisville native is compelled to use the photographs in what he calls a “light study of the Hill District. When I looked at his photographs I was really moved by the light,” Young said.
He said his goal is to take this concept to “every small town and find the equivalent of Teenie Harris and unpack their work.”
Common, an uplifting Hip-Hop recording artist, actor and film producer, has been applauded for his short film, “Black America Again.” It was filmed in black and white. The movie was inspired by the Chicago native’s 2016 album of the same name, and he collaborated with Young in producing the film.
Common said he was in a “divine place” when he wrote the critically-acclaimed song, “Black America Again.”
“Trayvon’ll never get to be an older man…The new plantation, mass incarceration…” are some of the lyrics from the song, featuring the legendary Stevie Wonder.
Florida neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, was found not guilty in the 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
A study from the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute found mass incarceration of African Americans has disastrous effects on their children: “Evidence is overwhelming that the unjustified incarceration of African American fathers (and, increasingly, mothers as well) is an important cause of the lowered performance of their children.”
“Thought about all these things that keep going on in our country that’s taking Black life,” Common said.
So how does he create the work that has resulted in Grammys and an Academy Award for “Glory” from the film Selma? Simply put, the Chicago native never forgets where he came from.
“I make it my duty to interact and touch down and stay as rooted as I can to where I come from,” Common said.
But he also recognized that he doesn’t do what he does alone and the process of putting together a hit album is not a one-man band.
“The actual process of creating comes like from me being around other collaborators, musicians specifically,” Common shared.
When asked about the evening, Young, who was mum about currently working on the Star Wars spinoff, the untitled Han Solo movie, said that he was “excited to demystify what we do.”
REkOGNIZE will be at the Carnegie Museum of Art through Dec. 31.