“We the people who are darker than blue.”
If your mind could really see
You’d know you’re color the same as me
Pardon me, brother, as you stand in your glory
I know you won’t mind if I tell the whole story
Get yourself together, learn to know your side
Shall we commit our own genocide
Before you check out your mind?
I know we’ve all got problems
That’s why I’m here to say
Keep peace with me and I with you
Let me love in my own way
We people who are darker than blue
Are we gonna stand around this town
And let what others say come true?
We’re just good for nothing they all figure
A boyish, grown up, shiftless jigger
Now we can’t hardly stand for that
Or is that really where it’s at?
We people who are darker than blue.
“We Are the People Who Are Darker Than Blue”
Curtis Mayfield 1970
In 2008 a physician buddy who was working for the CDC in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire managing a HIV education and treatment project invited me to shoot a photo essay on the work they were doing. We spent time in hospitals, outreach clinics that did HIV testing + treatment, birth control counseling, and with HIV/AIDS support groups. Although it was an emotionally exhausting 2 weeks I witnessed a lot of heartfelt support + love amongst the people impacted by the disease. I witnessed 20 people burst into cheers and cry tears of happiness when they were able to establish a phone connection with one of their members of the AIDS support group who’d been recently hospitalized. The last place I visited was an orphanage for children with HIV/AIDS or whose parents died from AIDS.
One might suspect an AIDs orphanage in an impoverished country to be a depressing place but I have honestly never seen a place with so much spirit, hope and optimism. Kids, given the opportunity, will be kids.
Chip Thomas, aka “jetsonorama” is a native of North Carolina. His life direction changed when he attended a small, alternative Quaker school in the mountains of North Carolina (the Arthur Morgan School). He is a photographer, public artist, activist and physician who has been working between Monument Valley and The Grand Canyon in the Navajo nation since 1987. He coordinates the Painted Desert Project – a community building effort which manifests as a constellation of murals across western Navajo Nation painted by artists from all over the world.
Thomas’ own public artwork consists of enlarged black and white photographs pasted on structures along the roadside on the Navajo nation. His motivation is to reflect back to the people in his community the love and elements of the culture they’ve shared with him over the years. He sees this work as an evolving dialog with his community.
Thomas is a member of the Justseeds Artists Co-operative, an international cooperative of 29 socially engaged artists scattered between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. You can find his large scale photographs pasted throughout the southwest and scattered sites around the country. He’s done projects with the Peoples Climate March, 350.org and NPR.