Being black in America
Words by Lisa Guerriero and photos by Lisa Guerriero
The Impossible Dream: Being Black in America is an ongoing project that aims to eulogize the lives of some of the young, unarmed black men who were fatally shot by the police in the United States in the past few years. This series focuses on LaQuan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Dontre Hamilton, Ezell Ford Jr., Oscar Grant, William Chapman, John Crawford III, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray.
The project began in 2015, motivated out of frustration with ongoing gun violence in the U.S. Most of my work has dealt with social issues from a documentary standpoint but a different angle on this project was of great importance to me.
The images I chose of the subjects were those that were projected on TV screens and printed in newspapers after their stories had become front page news. For most of these men, these images will be how they will be remembered by the world and surely will be the last photos anyone will ever see of them.
When printing their portraits I chose to use Polaroid film with gold borders. The gold surrounding the image gives each victim dignity as many of these subjects were vilified by the media, even after their death. Each Polaroid portrait is paired up with a vintage postcard from the city where the tragedy took place. The front of the postcard welcomes you to their grand city and colorfully accentuates its landmarks. Even though these were tourist mementos, some of the postcard artwork depicts racist images, such as a black boy eating watermelon while sitting on the letter “i” in Missouri.
The back of the postcard features the historical relationship between the city and African-Americans. The quotes are taken directly from the current Tourism Board website of each respective city. The text sometimes provides the opposite view of the circumstances, while the photo represents the reality. Instead of a handwritten note to a loved one describing a vacation, the cards notate each man’s date and circumstances of death.
People have been striving for “The American Dream” since the term was coined in 1931, but each death of a black man gets us further away from that dream. “The American Dream” is the ideal that every citizen in the United States should have an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative.
This project serves to magnify only a glimpse of the ongoing problem that the U.S. faces with law enforcement. These ten high profile cases brought these issues to light, but the conversation surrounding them and action to change the future must continue.