Part 1: The Decisive Moment: On Creative Courage

I envision a world where being human is embraced with creative courage. A world inclusive of the voices of people absent from “the table” where innovations that impact our futures are built.​ -Pamela L. Jennings

Creative Courage is…

  • Being authentic while innovating from the margins.
  • Demanding a resourceful, impactful, and fulfilling life.
  • Living an aesthetic life where every glance, sighting, observance becomes point and counterpoint, consonance and dissonance, adversity, and possibility.
  • Connecting with the unique curiosities of all humankind.
  • Experiencing the new and the unknown with eagerness and ease.
  • Leaving your imprint in places that are resistant to your existence with determination.
  • Pivoting when your value is better served elsewhere.

The Body Politic

After a week of listening to mostly white artists and media makers discuss their progressive ideas about making the world a better place, the final weekend of the 2019 New Media Caucus Border Control symposium surrendered to BiPOC emerging artists and community organizers in a daylong session titled “Woke New Media — Borders and Bodies: New Media Caucus (NMC) Diversity Panel”. This was a noble attempt for the symposium organizers to increase diversity and inclusion. Unlike the main symposium sessions, “Woke New Media” was free and open to the public — perhaps in hope of diversify the audience culled from primarily white institutions of higher education (PWI). In “Woke New Media” a panel of Black, brown, and white queer and straight emerging voices shared self-reflective creative critical new media arts, photography, and performance art works that placed their bodies in the interstices of the viewer’s gaze and their lived reality of cultural pain and reconciliation. Separated from the mainstream symposium sessions, nearly 90% of the majority white attendees left for the weekend to visit the big city or return home early. The “Woke New Media” audience was embarrassingly sparse.

Antonio McAfee, an emerging Black artist spoke eloquently about placing himself in the image, in the presence of the past. He spoke of ghosting himself to be seen. An interesting turn on the very concept of “ghosting” and “cancel culture” in our social mediatized society. His images rose from the canvas with a confounded scaffold of glue and photographs to symbolize the complexity of his intersectional identity and denied history. The emerging Japanese artist, Kei Ito and his white collaborator, Andrew Paul Keiper, dove deep into the process of reconciliation. One was borne into a family that was destroyed by the bomb. The other a family that made the bomb. The work focused on the displaced Japanese body, the body prostrate, rolling, frozen in position as if death could reawaken life. Victor F M Torres, an emerging LatinX artist bound himself from head to toe for public consumption as if to say, yes there is a living body inside that you can speculate about but cannot experience. And finally, Allana Clarke, an emerging Black artist reminded me of myself when I was an emerging artist in the 1990’s. Allana performed her body, her desires, and her defiance of the gaze of others through photography, video, sound-art, and performance art. Her work was so much braver and more provocative than mine during my emerging artist’s years.

During the weeklong symposium, I became known as the person who would ask provocative questions, about technology, learning, or theoretical contradictions in the presenter’s work. I usually ask questions to stay alert during longwinded sessions. Quite frankly, I think my most provocative questions come to me when I am about to nod off from cognitive exhaustion. After recognizing the common platform of photography across the “Woke New Media” panel presentations, I asked the following question.

“Everyone, on the panel works with concepts of the self, identity politics and the body as a narrative platform in their work. How does the concept of the ‘decisive moment’ inform your creative process?”

Hum, perhaps this was a trick question, a mash-up of creative schools-of-thought conflating street photography and identity politics.

Anyone who knows the history of photography is familiar with the concept of the ‘decisive moment’. The process of seeing and editing on-the-fly without the ‘cut’, without editing after the fact. A process made famous by Henri Cartier-Bresson’s black border that locked in his gaze and gave evidence that the photograph was edited in his minds-eye and split-second trigger of his index finger. The ‘decisive moment’ is typically not used to describe identity politics. Rather it is a style of photography dated and punctuated by the outward, primarily white male, gaze at a specific time in mid-20th century history. That being a time of war and great cities complicated by juxtapositions of conflict, wonderment, and possibilities. So how does the mid-20th century concept of the ‘decisive moment’ inform contemporary identity politics? Only the Black panelists, who in general were far more articulate in situating their creative processes in a broader theoretical framework, attempted to address the question. This, perhaps a hallmark of their stellar graduate school educations or their lived experience of the penetrating gaze of the dominant culture. Yet, they too were stymied by a question that required juxtaposing their creative praxis to the historical image making movement. My question planted a seed for discovering a throughline from creative theories and practices of the past to imaged and enacted urgencies of the now.

The “Woke New Media” panel session was long, the time was late, and our minds were numbed from hours of provocation. We had come to the time of day, late in the afternoon, when thinking evaporated into the thin air of the auditorium and dreams of dinner and a drink take precedence. This was to be a conversation to continue into the wee hours of the night at the local beer garden.

Next Up: The Decisive Moment: Learning to See (Part 2 of 5)

The Decisive Moment Series

Part 1: The Decisive Moment: On Creative Courage

Part 2: The Decisive Moment: Learning to See

Pamela L. Jennings, Ph.D., MBA is keynote speaker for Disrupting Innovation Culture. She is the CEO of CONSTRUKTS, Inc. that is “Sparking the AHA! in Learning”.

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