This project celebrates the under publicized adventures of Matthew Alexander Henson, (1866 – 1955), the first African-American Arctic explorer. Henson traveled with fellow explorer Robert Peary, who is often given most of the credit for the teams success. Henson's skills were numerous and included map making, sailing, nautical navigation, fluency in the Inuit language, hunting, Igloo construction among many others. For many years following the teams expeditions Henson received little to no attention. In recent years people have begin to recognize the essential role he played to the success of the many expeditions he was a part of. In 1912, Henson published his memoir, A Negro Explorer at the North Pole. Henson’s 6 major expeditions spanned over a period of nearly 23 years.
This project takes creative license to re-imagine the fictional exploits and images captured of arctic explorers Layton Farrel, William Anderson, (3rd), and Harris Douglas's 1923 expedition to the North Pole.
The Arctic Explorers Re-Imagined
Layton Farrell, 1923
William Anderson, 3rd, 1923
Harris Douglas, 1923
Art Gurera was born in raised in Little Village, a densly Hispanic neighborhood in Chicago's Soutwest side, and a youth advocate. Him and I had become friends and he shared the most unbelievable stories about his childhood growing up in Little Village, Chicago. He had commited himself to helping young men navigate the incestuous plague of violence in their city. I asked if I could interview him, his students. and take their portraits.
I wanted to capture the genuine despair and impact these events have had on these young men and hopefully allow the viewer to empathaze with them. We produced these with the intent to print them on billboards, outdoor sinage, and buildings, in rival gang neighborhoods. The idea was that if someone could hear how their actions affected someone else they might think twice about shooting at someone.
Each portrait was paired with a true story from their lives and printed next to their portrait. Tuan Huynh, a Chicago Art Director, designed the text and graphic layouts.
This project is ongoing and currently fundraising funds to print, publish, and publicly display the images.
In 2013, I moved into Logan Square, a Northside Chicago neighborhood, with 2 other friends much like myself. Shortly after getting settled, I bumped into an elderly black woman named Betty Cherry, who lived on the first floor. Betty and I were polar opposites differed by: age, gender, ethnicity, upbringing, and a plethora of other ways. We quickly became freinds and eventually would be refered to as her honory grandson. A title that brought me a lot of joy.
Betty Cherry was a woman of distinction and somewhat of a celebrity in Logan Square. She spent the better part of 40 years ministering to the community as a missionary through Armitage Baptist Church. She led community outreach programs for children, led a woman's Bible study, and often hosted meals at her home for anyone that wanted to come, which I often attended.
At her 60th birthday party I brought my camera, a backdrop, and captured portraits of her family, friends, and neighbors. Betty passed away in 2020 and will be greatly missed and thankful for all the prayers, stories, and life lessons she shared with me. These images were printed in a book and given to her family.
- Matthew Bowie
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