Malcolm Jackson takes on culture and consolidation with his photos on view at The Cummer.
Malcolm Jackson is proud to have his work on display at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens for the first time. “Across the Bridge” is a collection of his photographs captured between 2016 and 2021 that speaks about social determinants of health and the misperceptions of Jacksonville’s Northside and Eastside, which he refers to as “cultural hubs.”
According to Jackson, the Northside and Eastside don’t get the credit they deserve for helping to shape and elevate the city. “The only thing Jacksonville’s mainstream media cover [about them] are the crime rate, the poverty rate, all these other [negative] things,” he said. “OK, well, why is that?” He views his photographs as a way of addressing this bias.
“I wanted to kind of use this as a way to open that discussion up and show identity in a proud way. …. This area made you want to move to Jacksonville, but these are the problems actually going on here,” he said. What can we do to fix it?”
Drawn to candid portraiture, especially black and white, Jackson uses 35mm and medium format film cameras to capture his subjects. He believes in shooting first and asking questions later, which allows for authenticity to be the predominant aspect of the photograph. His photographs serve as an archive for the rich Black culture that still shapes Jacksonville today, while also documenting how government shortcomings disproportionately affect Black residents, the same ones who helped build the city.
Talking with Jackson feels like talking to Jacksonville personified; he wears Jacksonville on his sleeve and bleeds teal. He’s a third-generation Jaxon and has a deep connection to the city. His parents lived in LaVilla in the ’60s before Consolidation removed any opportunity for growth in the area, and they used their experiences to educate him. Because of his extensive knowledge of the city’s history, especially African-American history and culture, Jackson is known by many as “the people’s mayor.”
“Consolidation is the literal reason for suppression. We build the culture and then it is taken away from us, then we have to fend for ourselves. African-Americans have been dealing with broken promises since this country was even formed,” he said. “While I believe a lot of those minds have changed, you will have to show us better than you can tell us … and the city has been telling us for over 50 years and [they] haven’t shown us anything.”
With Jackson constantly documenting social justice issues, it’s easy to classify him as an activist, but that’s not his intention. What he photographs is what he lives. “In some aspects, I probably am an activist without even knowing,” he said, adding he prefers not to put labels on people—or things. (He doesn’t even title his work because he wants viewers to have the freedom to make their own interpretations.)
“It’s cool to look like an activist nowadays, you know,” Jackson said of individuals who use their “activism” to look good on social media. “I’m not taking photographs to hang out with chicks. I’m taking photographs because this is what I believe in. If anything, I’m proud to photograph just to make other people activists.”
He continued: “I’m doing my work as a person in America trying to live and create the best life for other people in the way that I know how. Maybe it’s my work that can influence somebody else to go down that path.”