ORLANDO — Black and white portraits, taken of those who visited the Minneapolis site where George Floyd died in police custody, hang at eye-level in a dimly lit room of the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center in Maitland, Fla.
The free exhibit “Uprooting Prejudice: Faces of Change” opened at the center this month and features 45 portraits and quotes from people who answered a prompt from Minneapolis-based photographer John Noltner: “What do you want to say?”
A few days after Floyd’s death, which reinvigorated movements in Orlando and other U.S. cities for social justice and police reform, Noltner captured images of people near the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue.
The area is a memorial site for Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man whose cries of “I can’t breathe” as a white police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes have become a regular chant at protests.
Some of Noltner’s photos portray expressions of stark grief from Black parents, including Michael Brown Sr. whose 18-year-old son was fatally shot by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer six years ago.
“This is the look of a hurt father,” Brown Sr. told Noltner.
Noltner said he found participants by looking “for human connections” through eye contact or approaching people after overhearing conversations reflecting about Floyd’s death.
He set up a basic studio kit on a sidewalk and only worked during the day, the “quiet moments” before massive protests picked up momentum. The photos were printed in black and white “because it boils things down to the simple elements,” Noltner said.
Participants wrote down their responses to Noltner’s question in 25 words or less before he snapped their photo.
“There’s a bit of heroic quality, there’s a bit of amplified weight to those quotes when it’s words and just a standalone portrait,” Noltner said.
The center’s Assistant Executive Director Lisa Bachman said the placement and size of the photos in the two rooms was a strategic decision. The quotes are written in English and Spanish.
“It’s more than just seeing what people think,” she said of the exhibit’s intent. “We blew them up and hung them because the idea is that you’re looking these people in the eyes and you really feel what they have to say.”
Visitors are required to make reservations online and encouraged to share their perspectives about the exhibit using Noltner’s question for the series.
A man from Ohio posted a photo of himself on the center’s website last week and wrote: “Those that experience privilege must do more. It’s a critical time for our country. We must do better.”
By Lisa Maria Garza, Orlando Sentinel (TNS)