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Malcolm Jackson at Brew Five Points

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Malcolm Jackson’s show It Is What It Is, currently on view at Brew Five Points, is a succinct reminder of the immediacy, satisfaction and power that can be found in documentary photographs. Revealing and preserving the immediacy of Jackson’s experiences, the works recall Gordon Parks, Walker Evans and, in terms of access, Ryan McGinley.

Gordon Parks bravely used his camera as a weapon against what he hated most about the universe: “racism, intolerance and poverty.” Like Parks, Jackson uses his lens to tell the story he is most interested in; right now, that story is about spaces that might otherwise go unnoticed and unseen.

“We know more about the NYC story than our own area,” says Jackson as he reflects on the ways in which the Springfield area of Jacksonville has changed, and some of the lingering ideas that continue to shade the neighborhood. “…[Growing up in the aughts] I had Springfield and the Springfield I had was ‘you didn’t come down after dark,’ but that was just a stereotype—though there was truth there,” he says, then pauses, “I don’t get down with exploitation.” As an artist who parses his language carefully, there’s quite a bit Jackson has left unsaid in the space between an idea of truth and the idea of exploitation. In salacious assumptions of danger and vice in neighborhoods like Springfield, there is a continuation of a narrative that allows racist and classist ideas to take root and flourish … and those ideas can be transformed into images that reinforce those preexisting ideas.

Looking at Jackson’s images spanning five years, from 2012 to 2017, it is clear that he does not seek to varnish or sensationalize the truth. “I’m always trying to stay as close to anonymous as possible,” he says. Jackson shot with a Leica M6 on film, and his images, like McGinley’s, offer access to a world that’s easily overlooked, often with humor peeking through. Unlike McGinley’s mildly titillating imagery, however, Jackson’s is one of Laundromats, corner stores, trailer parks, and extraordinary stylistic choices. “Main St., Jax ’17” shows an emerald green classic ’70s convertible Caprice with huge tires (20s at a guess) on golden spoke rims, parked beneath a billboard depicting the same convertible parked outside of a body shop promising “electrical” work and computer “diagnostics” (complete with scare quotes). It’s a stylish, witty, meta image that speaks to the fleeting nature of local fame, while nodding to and uplifting classic car culture, as often retrofitted in the South, primarily in African-American communities (according to a 2013 entry on the site Jalopnik.com).

Moving from glamour into the more mundane, “9th St., Jax, ’15” is a witty and touching depiction of the mundane laundry day. The photo has an aura of casual suspicion about it. In the foreground, a female figure stands turned away from the lens, her right hand full of clothing; she’s wearing a racer-back tank top and yoga pants, and just over the top of the yoga pants is her tattoo: a pair of imperfectly rendered eyes glaring back at the viewer. Arresting, unexpected, and funny in a heartbreaking kind of way, the eyes are almost the first thing a viewer sees, and after the joke subsides, they act as a portal to reflection and compassion. “I was born and raised in Jacksonville, and these are the things we value dearly,” Jackson says.

Jackson shoots quickly, almost before being noticed, and this is a large part of his success. And even when he’s noticed, his demeanor and genuine interest in the people/places he’s shooting diffuse situations that otherwise might be tense; often, he’ll mail prints to the folks he captures. It is a canny way to reinforce his role as an active observer in a city where he believes that “this community needs to see this stuff [themselves in art] …  [because] everybody can’t play football,” he comments.

This sentiment of depiction and reflection undergirds Jackson’s commitment to the Jacksonville community, and is reinforced through the two companies he is partnered in: Project 1794, a digital media marketing firm, and Bonsoir streetwear company. Both are co-owned with several partners/friends and are grounded in being of Jacksonville and from Jacksonville.

When asked about what the future holds for him, Jackson is succinct. “Jacksonville is where I want to be … I’ll just keep going.”

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It Is What It Is is on display until May 5 at Brew Five Points, 1024 Park St., Riverside.

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