In the interest of full disclosure, I should also tell you that I used to work for Jackson's father, Jack Potts, as a photographer's assistant. In addition, it is not my aim or intent to "smear" or "defame" anyone involved. Reasons and opinions are just that, and I hope that you will not read anything I type as an attack on anybody.
[At this point the post has gotten rather long, so I'd also like you to read this with the knowledge that we did ask Jackson to create a second piece, and that he accepted the offer.]
First, some background information. The space that Xnihilo Gallery occupies is the same space in which Ecclesia holds its weekly services. Each year, Xnihilo hosts a Stations of the Cross installation that begins on Ash Wednesday and runs a few weeks past Easter. We [the board of directors of Xnihilo] invite fifteen artists to recreate the traditional Stations [14 + the Resurrection] as they interpret them. I've personally had the privilege of being involved in the creation of three such pieces. Recently we've also managed to tie this show into FotoFest's biennial exhibition, having each of the pieces utilize some photography/photographic process. When we chose artists last fall, we thought it fitting to ask Jackson to create a piece.
The station that Jackson was awarded is Station #7: Jesus falls for the Second Time. The corresponding scripture that accompanies this station is Psalm 22:6
But as for me, I am a worm and no man,This is what Jackson was provided with when asked to create a piece.
Scorned by all and despised by the people.
I received the piece on Monday, February 15th, while at the gallery, and was immediately struck by its power and Jackson's prowess. This is an image wholly created by a ten year old boy - he crafted the image in his mind, did test shoots with his brother to get the pose right, scouted for a location, did a lighting diagram, and shot the image himself.
It is a heavy photograph that causes a visceral reaction to develop in many viewers, and I believe that it sincerely fulfills its intent. The Stations of the Cross are supposed to make viewers reflect on the gravity of the moments before Jesus was crucified, and I'm very proud of Jackson for accomplishing that.
It was brought to my attention later in the day that the image would be a point of contention - a member of Ecclesia Church had lost her son, almost exactly a year prior, as a victim of an unnecessary police shooting before her eyes. The story is truly a tragic one, and I'll let you read more about it.
Immediately it became apparent that we needed to be very sensitive to this woman and her family. In a discussion with one man, Jim, who has counseled her for some time, we offered the option of a shroud in front of the piece, as well as a warning about the graphic nature of the piece. Jim then approached Pam, informing her of the content of the piece [without describing it in detail], and the lengths to which we were going to be considerate of her. She declined an option to view the photograph, but informed us that she would be okay with it hanging on the wall if it was covered with a shroud. Such a compromise would thus make the piece available for viewing but ensuring that it would be covered should she enter the room.
After a very busy day and a half of installing most of the other pieces, I had been bouncing conversations back and forth with several persons - Eric Hartley & Jessica Martin-Weber, former curators of Xnihilo and members of our Board of Directors, Jeremy Wells and Tyndall Wakeham - board members and elders of Ecclesia, Stephen Hicks - a member of the church staff, Jessica's husband Jeremy, and some other artists involved in the show. At 3 pm on Tuesday it appeared that our compromise had been approved, and I had already troubleshot the installation of the piece in my mind.
Shortly thereafter I received a conference call from the elders, Tyndall & Jeremy, informing me that we couldn't hang the piece. I began to explain that we had resolved the situation already, and they informed me that it wasn't the Hobart's situation that was the problem, but the small children that attend Ecclesia with their families.
Despite my statements that the photograph would be veiled, and that most of the children in the church would be able to comprehend the symbolism in the piece, they insisted that it had been decided the piece could not hang. I lobbied for everyone involved to come view the piece in person - to give it a fair shake - but was told that it was a decision that had already been made by the elders of the church.
It was decided that we needed to talk to Jackson as soon as possible, to discuss the situation with him. Jeremy & Tyndall expressed their desire to stress that Jackson had not done anything inherently wrong, but that the elders had determined it could traumatize small children. I see their point, as well - to little kids policemen and firefighters are heroes, incapable of wrongdoing, and to see such a striking and powerful image could, in theory, cause them unnecessary trauma. Small children - while capable of being very bright and "wise beyond their years" - often are not capable of comprehending the symbolism behind complex and very realistic depictions; it is difficult for them to separate the allegory from the reality of what they are beholding.
Initially the two gentlemen wanted to initiate a conference call, that evening [by now it was nearly 5:30 pm on Tuesday], between themselves, Jackson & Jack, and myself. Instead, the five of us met the following morning at a Starbucks [much to my coffee-drinking dismay], and discussed the situation with Jackson. We offered to compensate him for the piece, impressed upon him that it was not because he did something wrong, and Tyndall & Jeremy explained why the elders felt it wasn't proper to hang the piece. In addition, we invited Jackson to create a replacement piece for the installation, and decided it fitting that Xnihilo display his original piece for the official reception on March 13th, 2010. Jackson took the news like a champion - I know it must have been very hard for him to hear - and handled it with the grace of a man thrice his age. All of us stressed how talented we think Jackson is, and that we know he will be creating amazing work for ages to come.
I'm exhausted - this post has taken me nearly two hours to concoct, and there is much more to be said in this discussion, I am certain. I will be returning with an additional post, giving my thoughts on the photograph itself, and my personal opinion of the matter. Likewise, I believe that we will have some of the members of our Board of Directors weigh in on the piece, and hopefully we can get statements from Jackson & Jack as well.
I do hope you'll come back and leave some comments about the piece, your feelings on the matter, or just to read the additional posts. Also, I'd love to see you at the reception on March 12th from 7-10 pm at Xnihilo Gallery, located at 2115 Taft Street in Houston, Texas. In addition to having the opportunity to view the piece and meet Jackson, the rest of the show is quite stunning as well.
Curator, Xnihilo Gallery