Each image in Lisette Otero-Lewis’s photographic series, “Hopes, dreams and realities”, has a power of its own. But seen as a whole, it hits like a punch.
The series is currently on display at Grand Gallery, located inside Grand Living Realty at 2298 Colbert Lane in Palm Coast.
Jan Jackson, the curator of the Grand Gallery, had seen some of the photos in Otero-Lewis’s office in his own art gallery, Galleria d’Arte, in Palm Coast.
“I’ve always been impressed,” Jackson said. “I asked her if she had enough work to do a show. She said it was actually a series.
Jackson said that when watching the show for the first time, she was moved to tears.
“This is the strongest statement of racial injustice I have ever seen,” she wrote to Otero-Lewis in an email.
But that was not her intention when she took these black and white photos from 2012 to 2013.
Otero-Lewis is a lyrical documentary photographer. She is developing a concept “and everything has to flow within that concept,” she says. And yet, this is not how this series was born.
She was living in Mississippi at the time and owned an art gallery in the historic courthouse plaza in the small town of Canton, Mississippi. She took pictures of friends and people who came into her life.
It wasn’t until three years later, after moving to Punta Gorda and being offered a space to mount her own exhibition, that she realized she had a common thread.
“Canton is known for ‘Mississippi Burning’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’,” she said. “The Mississippi Blues Trail crosses it. If you walk down Main Street, just before you get to the square, all of those stores left to right are African American owners. But once you hit the square it stops. He still has that dynamic. It’s a very small town everywhere. Time has sort of stood still.
The juxtaposition of images guides your perceptions. “Easter Best” is a photo of two young African American girls dressed for church. It is associated with an elderly and distinguished white woman dressed in a leopard print jacket and seated on an antique sofa, titled “Metaphysician”.
“She’s a woman with lots and lots of ideas. I love her energy.”
JAN JACKSON, museum curator, on Lisette Otero-Lewis
“J’Nia’s Son”, a young black boy, with the caption “When we look into his eyes we see a boy, what we don’t see is how he will be treated like a man”, is associated with “Next Generation”, a young white girl with the caption: “When we look her in the eyes we see a girl, what we know is that she will be favored.”
The girl has what Jackson calls the “strangest eyes,” with a narrow dark ring surrounding her irises. Look at the picture and you have the impression that you are scrutinizing his soul. Or is she looking in yours?
“Joy Within” is a photo of a black woman with an infectious smile holding an umbrella and looking up to the sky.
“She’s so full of life that you want to give her a hug so that some of her joy will rub off on you,” Jackson said.
“None of my parents, black or white, look desperate,” Otero-Lewis says. “Even though the lady with the umbrella has the ragged dress – she was poor, that’s right – but I have her as a friend on Facebook and she’s now a director of Mary Kay. She’s very well. This image was not even intentional. I was just testing my light.
The “metaphysician” is Otero-Lewis’s friend, Linda.
“Of course his family has land there,” Otero-Lewis said. “She inherited the land. But when you talk to her, she’s very open-minded. She does metaphysics. She is a rebel. You wouldn’t know by looking at her.
And that’s the dichotomy of the show. That we cannot stereotype. That we can look at a picture and that our perception can change. The small-town Mississippi perception that the people are country buggers is not the reality Otero-Lewis experienced during his time there.
They’re not even from the country, she said. It’s blues, it’s jazz, it’s progressive, it’s educated. “Housewives have masters,” she says.
Otero-Lewis knows what it’s like to be stereotypical. His parents moved from Puerto Rico to Connecticut where Otero-Lewis lived until he moved to Miami in third grade.
“When I lived in Connecticut, I was just American,” she said. In Miami, she said she experienced culture shock, “being Latin, being American and having this conflict sometimes.”
Hopes, Dreams and Realities runs until June 20 at the Gallery. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday. Free entry. The series originally had 12 images, but Otero-Lewis added a few more for this show.
“She’s a woman who has lots and lots of ideas and she’s doing them all at the same time,” Jackson said. “But she does. I like his energy. She is truly unique.