PBS Online Film Festival

S2020 E6 | FULL EPISODE

Celestia Morgan

Birmingham-based conceptual photographer Celestia Morgan uses image to exercise and amplify her voice. Morgan's latest project draws on family experiences with redlining, inspiring her to create work that challenges assumptions about the communities around us.

AIRED: July 13, 2020 | 0:06:29
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
TRANSCRIPT

(bright music)

- My name is Celestia Morgan

and I'm a conceptual photographer.

The beginning of my photography journey

started roughly teenage years.

When my father died we were looking for images of him

in a family photo album, and we could not find them.

And, we realized he was the guy behind the camera,

that made me kinda think about what inspired me

to pick up a camera.

And, I believe it was through him,

seeing him behind the camera itself.

Going to college at UAV.

I started out in one major and decided to take an elective,

a photo class, which was across the street.

And so, the thing is, I guess, you know,

I crossed the street and it changed my life.

I took a photography class

and from there working in a darkroom, it was like magic.

Well, I'm a very reserved person.

I don't talk much, but I observe a lot of things.

I look into a lot of details, I take in the moments.

Art, through photography, it was a catalyst

to voice my opinions,

to voice the things that I sometimes felt shy to say,

at those moments.

Everything I've created came from within.

I didn't make things up just to make art.

I didn't make things up just to have a show.

You know, I pulled it from a deeper place.

It's almost like a balloon.

You know, it keeps adding on top of each other.

These layers and layers,

this balloon gets bigger and bigger until it pops.

And, I think at the moment when a work is created,

my balloon is popping.

You know, and I'm able to express

or let out everything that I have held in.

Redlining, kinda developed from

doing research again of my grandmother,

while my family lived in certain areas.

My grandmother would move from one house

to a house up the street

because it had an extra bedroom,

because she had 16 kids.

So, yeah (chuckling), she would do that

and I questioned, you know, why.

And, when I got married,

my husband and I purchased our first home.

I mean, owning property was, you know, a wealth builder.

You know, that's how you capitalize.

That's the American dream, you know,

owning a home and having a nice job

and passing it on to your family.

Within five years of us purchasing our home,

the property value dropped.

We got a little nervous about that.

And, we were really excited about, you know,

starting a family.

So, I started to do some research

and I came across the history of redlining.

It's pretty much discrimination,

where these maps were created.

And, if you wanted to purchase a home,

you would be denied the mortgage loans.

And, I start to look at this HOLC map

of a Birmingham postal map.

And, I realized like, wow,

this is kinda crazy how they categorize these neighborhoods

on the Birmingham map.

It actually says negro concentration.

As I look at the neighborhoods in which I grew up in,

when I go back now and look at the area, it has declined.

So, I start to look at that

and look at how a lot of the African Americans

were living in the city and how the map of 1930s

look at the map of 2019.

And, I was like, wow,

these neighborhoods are almost in the same place, you know?

So, I started to document the things that I saw changing

in my neighborhood, and I wanted my voice to be heard.

And once again,

I picked up my camera

and started to use that as my weapon of choice.

(chuckling)

I wanted to create my own little imprints.

We label them as hazardous,

or we label them as negro concentration,

but I wanted people to see more.

So, I placed these geometric shapes over skies,

letting people know that these neighborhoods,

people live here, you know, their citizens too,

they pay taxes just like you pay taxes

on the other side of town.

I want people to realize that there's hope

for these neighborhoods

and we should offer more hope to the people.

So, the work is not only looking at

the negative part of redlining

and how we face it today,

but it also brings about the question of

how can we move forward within these neighborhoods?

That's why it's so important to strip away

that negative connotation towards that map that was created.

And I definitely, I like bait.

So as a viewer,

when you see these images hanging on the wall,

you was like, oh, that is so pretty.

The sky is so blue, and it's like, I got you.

As an artists, I got you.

But, now conceptually,

now let's look at the ugly part of it.

You know, so.

When people view the work,

I really want them to leave

with a sense of self-examination.

And, you know, this happened in the 30s,

some people say, well, I wasn't born then.

But, I want people to actually question, okay,

how I operate now.

I know some people look at the work and may say, well,

it's about redlining, oh well.

Another piece of work about redlining.

But, I really, really want the viewer to see

what's happening and how the impact us now of today,

2019, you know.

Or, even beyond, how can we deviate from that path

that's been laid before us.

(bright music)

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