Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What It Was Like Being Mixed-Race Photographed By National Geographic


[image source]

by Sharon H Chang

Remember these pictures? They were part of National Geographic's mixed race photo campaign "Changing Faces" published in October 2013. "We're becoming a country," stated the magazine, "Where race is no longer so black and white." The images were shot by famous German portrait photographer Martin Schoeller who said he liked "building catalogs of faces that invite people to compare them." I think it's safe to say that happened. The gallery was widely viewed (it being National Geographic after all) and more or less greatly admired (it being Martin Schoeller after all). But there was some criticism, including my own, which I wrote about for Racism Review in Mixed or Not, Why Are We Still Taking Pictures of "Race"? One of the larger questions I raised was around the idea that we use images of mixed race people to debate race, without including those mixed folk in the debate themselves. I concluded that essay with a proclamation:

While modern race-photography believes itself to be celebrating the dismantling of race, it may actually be fooling us (and itself) with a fantastically complicated show of smoke and mirrors...We need to make much, MUCH more space for something ultimately pretty simple — the stories of actual people themselves which in the end, will paint the real picture.

But here's a truth I want to share with you. I also felt at the time that me making this proclamation wasn't enough. That I had to do more than just say it. I needed to live it; make a commitment to the practice I was preaching. So. As an old friend used to say, "Where attention goes, energy flows." Soon after making this personal resolve I had the amazing good fortune of running into Alejandro T. Acierto, a mixed race identifying person who was photographed for National Geographic's campaign. He graciously agreed share with me/us what "Changing Faces" was like for him through his own experience, his own words, and his own lens.