Our Common Ground by Bruce Caines
a photo essay by Bruce Caines
(Crown Publishers)

cover of Our Common Ground--click here to go to story index

"African-American descent plays a part in each story here, a powerful role in many. Racism appears as a factor just as often. On the other hand, race--the doctrine of immutable difference and inferiority, the eternal strategic positioning of white over black--is given the lie by these life stories. Racism can stunt or sully or deny achievement, but the folks in this book are on the move, beyond the power of race to pigeonhole and cage. They are supplying for themselves, for us, for the future, terms of achievement not racially determined."

From the Introduction by John Edgar Wideman

The idea for this project evolved initially from a completely selfish idea; I wanted to strengthen my commercial portfolio of photographic portraits. As I began doing more and more portrait work for magazines, I was doing less and less fashion work, which was fine with me. Because, as much as I enjoy creating fashion pictures, I had grown weary of all the "fabulousness" that seemed inevitable with anything relating to the fashion business.

I don't like fabulous.

The same reason that made me think that Black celebrities would be interested in working with me--the fact that there are relatively few photographers of color in the United States doing the kind of work I do--was the same thing that made me stop and think about exactly what it was I was doing.

How many young Black people think of considering photography as a career? I didn't. As a kid, I just liked to take pictures. For that matter, how many Black kids would think of becoming an engineer or a stonemason? And how many of those Black kids know what a natural resource biologist is, let alone that they could be one? How many kids who aren't Black would know what these professions are or that they could persue them? What was it that allowed me to even think that I could be the photographer that I am now?

Opportunity, exposure and options.

My initial exposure to all the different options available to me, was due to my parents, who though by no means well-off, found a way to be sure my brothers, Vance and Dwight and I, would have the best that they could afford. I was well aware that not all young people of color were as fortunate as my brothers and I were when we were growing up. And this exposure to these opportunities and options is surely giving their white counterparts an advantage that may later prove to be insurmountable to our Black children in our competitive society.

I also knew that if Black people didn't know much about themselves as a community, then it stood to reason people who were not Black would know even less! There are countless numbers of people whose only contact with a Black person has been through their television. We are either the Walkers of "Good Times," or the Huxtables of the "Cosby Show." Extreme ends of the television situation-comedy spectrum.

How can we convince Black youths that they can be whatever they want to be when the negative image of Black people in America is constantly before them? We blame the media for concentrating on the fifteen-year-old Black youth being escorted through a gauntlet of television cameras and reporters as he hides his head under his jacket. But what have we done to counter that image? What have we done to say to young people, "You are a good person. There are things that you can do that no one else can do in quite the same way"?

Our Common Ground is an invitation I want to extend to everyone, to get to know some wonderful people. These people have made an effort to make a difference in the world around them. These people just happen to be Black.

cover of Our Common Ground--click here to go to story index

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©Bruce Caines ocg@brucecaines.com