Friday, August 26 presents
Milbert O. Brown

“The Journey: The Next 100 Years”
February 22, 2001

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Jasper: How many pictures make up the whole collection?

Milbert Brown: The collection, the body of work of "The Journey" is 175 images. All the images that are featured in the exhibit are 16 x 20 prints. Let me tell you how our curators selected 175 images. We shot about 1500 rolls of film during the course of the year--Kodak TMAX film. The photographers shot roughly about 35,000 pictures. Each month, when the photographers turned the film in, we as editors selected the best pictures/slides from that month. Generally we selected an average of 50 slides per month. Near the end of the year, we had a curating/editing session in which 92 percent of the photographs, about 158 images, were selected from a body of 1500 selected pictures from the total year. The last 8 percent of the images were selected in mid-December. And that is how "The Journey" was selected. There were seven curators, and there were four rounds of judging over a course of 3 days and 22 hours. So we put a lot of emphasis on the photographs that were selected.

Madeline: It must have been very hard editing all of these photos. What were some of your criteria for selection?

Milbert Brown: Some of the criteria the curators used were the quality of the picture, the composition, and also whether it was an image we could use in the context of the project, an image that satisfied the theme of the project. We looked for powerful photographs--certainly photographs that meant something. Not just a pretty photograph, but a photograph that had some type of storytelling about what the subject or subjects were trying to convey in that photograph.

Corn Pone: Hi--great pictures! You mentioned it was a "rebirth for a lot of you working as a community on this project." What do you mean by that?

Milbert Brown: A lot of us that either work for newspapers or as freelancers are given assignments that sometimes we love, but as in any job, they becomes mundane after a while. That happens with any job that you work at, whether a basketball player or whatever. This was a chance to do what we really felt. We felt this body of work was very important, and we wanted to do something special for the year 2000. And when you do something special for this new century, it was a chance for us to really put energy into something that we really wanted to do.

H Davidson: How long has this alliance of photographers been around?

Milbert Brown: The Chicago Alliance for African-American Photographers was formed in March of 1999. I conceived the idea for this project in late 1998. On my Christmas vacation I bought and was reading a book called "Black Artists in Photography 1840-1940." I was so moved by some of the photographs and the bios of these photographers, some of whom I was familiar with, and some I wasn't. I thought of getting a body of people together and doing work that may have lasting historical significance, and that's how the Chicago Alliance of African-American Photographers was formed. The organization was formed to develop this project which we now call "The Journey--The Next 100 Years."

Chica Jess: Do you have any advice for a photo student like me?

Milbert Brown: Actually, three of our photographers were photo students at Columbia College in Chicago. We opened the project to any African-American photographer who wanted to do a lasting impression of what life and culture in the African-American community was like in the beginning of the century. One of our centerpiece pictures was taken by Donnie Seals. Donnie Seals took a photograph during the first seconds into the new century. It was a very emotional and compassionate photograph of his sister hugging her father during a New Year's Eve celebration. As the new century came around, Nicole Seals hugged her father, and that was the photograph we felt was one of our most significant pieces. It had a deeper meaning. That photograph was the signature piece--the power and the defining example of what this project is all about. And again, that photograph was taken seconds into the new century, taken by a 21-year-old college student.

Milbert Brown: As I told you, Donnie Seals was a quite young photographer. We know a lot of them--they mentor under us. They come to us for knowledge and advice, and that's how we know them and they know of us.

Chica Jess: What is the next project for the Alliance?

Milbert Brown: The next project of the Alliance is a continuation of "The Journey" project. We're going to continue along like the FSA project--the Farm Security Administration, a photodocumentary project that lasted from the 30s into the mid-40s. What we're trying to do is leave a record, a repository of images, so that a scholar can go back and see what the culture of African-Americans was in the beginning of the century, much like the FSA. The FSA project emphasized rural life and the Depression. In later years it was the mobilization effort of W.W.II.

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