Shown here is a selection of photographs by Bermudian photojournalist Richard Saunders (1922-1987) which were exhibited at BNG in 2011 in a retrospective of his work, and which now reside in the permanent collection of the Bermuda National Gallery.
As we collectively respond to the exposed systemic injustices so terribly familiar to communities of colour, it is especially challenging to see how little has changed since Saunders took the photograph above, Malcom X with Elijah Muhammed and Muslim Dignitaries, in the 1950s.
The realities of institutional segregation in Bermuda until the 1960s forced artists such as Richard Saunders to work overseas. From 1967 to 1986 he worked as international editor for Topic, the United States Information Agency’s magazine, during which time he visited over 30 African countries.
His photographs went on to be published in the New York Times, Life and Time. He was part of the 1953 Museum of Modern Art exhibition Always The Young Strangers and was the recipient of the International Black Photographers Award and Bermuda Arts Council’s first annual lifetime achievement award.
After his death at the age of 65, U.S. Congressman Charles Rangel acknowledged Saunders, who had become a U.S. citizen, for his contribution to photography and the civil rights movement.
New York’s prestigious Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is a custodian of 20 years of photographs taken by Saunders for Topic. The Center is based in Harlem, New York and is part of the New York Public Library system.
Contemporary photographer Meredith Andrews, who has exhibited in 8 Bermuda Biennials and whose work resides in the BNG’s permanent collection, explores the unexpected reality in which we find ourselves in her new body of work: Front Step Portraits.
The striking images – which were taken before the current lockdown restrictions were put in place – capture local residents as they shelter in place and provide an intimate look at life in Bermuda amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
We sat down with Meredith to discuss documenting life on the island in the age of the coronavirus and why we should all see social distancing measures as an act of generosity and care for the most vulnerable in our community.
BNG: What gave you the idea for the Front Step Portraits?
MA: Before the lockdown was in effect a chance meeting with a friend and fellow photographer, Amy Harvey, resulted in her mentioning a similar project that American photographers King & Field were working on. I was already considering creating a body of work documenting life in Bermuda in the age of Covid-19, but it was her tip that gave me the final direction. Most of my portrait work is created as a series or collection, so the concept of Front Step Portraits suited my practice perfectly.
BNG: When did you start shooting the series?
MA: I started shooting on Saturday March 28th. The first session was done in conjunction with a fundraising, “virtual 5K” organised by a friend. I made my way on foot to Ord Road from my home. The first two portraits I took were of a healthcare worker and an employee of Lindos grocery store who were both exhausted having just finished long shifts. This was a motivational way to begin the project.
BNG: Where in Bermuda did you take the portraits?
MA: All of the portraits have been taken in my neighbourhood and now given the lockdown restrictions they will be within half a mile of my house. People have responded positively. I’ve only had one subject refuse to have their portrait taken and the response online, where I shared the images, has been nothing but supportive.
BNG: How do you think that Bermudians have responded to social distancing measures and now the lockdown restrictions?
MA: I for one am very proud of Bermuda. We have taken the inconvenience of social distancing and now lockdown in our stride. I feels as if I am surrounded with examples of community support, generosity and care for the island’s most vulnerable. The hard work and sacrifice of the island’s essential workers is commendable and in my opinion I think Premier David Burt and the Government are doing a great job at managing and communicating with the public about this unprecedented challenge the world and Bermuda is facing.
BNG: How has the enforced quarantine affected your artistic practice?
MA: The quarantine has actually been good for me creatively and my general artistic practice. Projects that often get pushed to the side in favour of commercial shoots are now at the forefront of my day. Having more time to read and research projects is proving beneficial. Furthermore, the internet is a treasure trove of inspirational content at the moment. Whether it be a lecture on painting from David Hockney, a dynamic Instagram feed or a How To video on YouTube, my practice has been deeply enriched since the quarantine began.