A new photography exhibit featuring the work of Raymond Thompson is on display at the College’s Media Innovation Center in recognition of Black History Month.
“Imaging/Imagining: Trees” examines the relationship between African Americans and nature, focusing on the idea of the tree as a cultural symbol. On one hand, the tree represents a part of American culture that is preserved in our vast conserved natural spaces and parks. On the other hand, it is at the heart of white supremacy and the historical memory of lynching.
The idea for the collection came to Thompson after reading “Black Faces, White Spaces.” He started researching “white people and trees” and “black people and trees” and noticed the contrasting portrayals. When he didn’t find the images of African Americans he was looking for, he decided to create his own.
“I still wanted to reference back to lynching, with the black and white starkness to harken back to that sadness, but also attempt to reclaim the space,” said Thompson. “Going back to the idea that when you Google these pictures, ‘black people and trees,’ I want more images like mine to appear. Sometimes in order to believe you belong in a space, you have to see it. I want these images, specifically for people of color, to be able to allow people to see themselves in this space if they don’t already.”
Thompson is a multimedia specialist for the West Virginia University Magazine and has worked as a freelance photographer for the New York Times, Google, NBC News, ProPublica, Merrell Buzzfeed and the Associated Press.
He earned his M.A. in photography from the University of Texas at Austin and graduated from the University of Mary Washington with a B.A. in American Studies.
Learn more about Thompson and his work at www.raymondthompsonjr.com.