Two good photography books have arrived on my doorstep this year. The June arrival was by Annie Leibovitz about her portraits and her working methods, The Second and more important book is by Jeff McGuiness of St. Michaels. Jeff’s book: “Bear Me Into Freedom” is about the conditions of slavery in Talbot County and his time as a slave, as seen through the eyes and words of Frederick Douglass; and more importantly, his emotions.
I can only imagine when Jeff McGuiness started this project he thought he was making a photography book. He did indeed accomplish that and so much more.
His research took him into Frederick Douglass’ writings, namely the three autobiographies Douglas wrote about his time in Talbot County – American Slave (1845); My Bondage and My Freedom (1855); and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881).
McGinnis, with the click of his keyboard and the sound of his camera’s shutter has managed to flip the narrative of the usual photo book, MCGinnis did his research and his reading and then proceeded to find locations in Talbot County that Douglass describes in his autobiographies. Those resulting photos presented on the right side of the book spread, visually ‘inform’ the viewer/reader about Douglas’ feelings and emotions as written in those passages. It’s important for the reader to dip into the right side of their brain and see something beyond the trees, the water and the tide – see the feelings..
Most photo books show the photos on the right side of the book spread and text on the left It is well known in the ‘photo book trade’, when landscape photos are presented, the text is skimmed over and not expected to nourish the photo, but only provide some context of what, when, where and why.
When the words “flip the narrative” are used – it means – Jeff’s photos explain Douglas’ emotions visually. Read Jeff’s selected passages and open up the right side of your brain and see those emotions in the photos. They are there.