'Typical American Families' photo exhibit to be unveiled at Emory

By Kimber Williams | Emory Report | May 4, 2015

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"Typical American Families" highlights the many configurations that family life can take in America. Photos in the exhibit will be unveiled at a public reception at the Center for Ethics on May 7. Photo by Ross Oscar Knight.

"Typical American Families," a new photographic exhibit that explores a wider view of American families, will be unveiled Thursday, May 7, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Emory Center for Ethics, 1531 Dickey Drive.

Conceived by Carlton Mackey, director of Emory's Ethics and the Arts Program, the exhibit offers a photographic glimpse into the lives of 15 Atlanta-area families, celebrating "the vast landscape of manifestations of family" across spectrums of culture, faith and ability, Mackey says.

The event includes a public reception and formal unveiling of the exhibit. Guests will also have a chance to meet families that participated in the community project, which showcases the diversity of the American family through the lens of international photographer/photoculturalist Ross Oscar Knight, Mackey's creative partner.

The families — who haven't yet seen their photographs — will share stories and insights into how they bridge faith, culture and difference in Atlanta, Mackey says.

As a winner of the 2014 One Region Atlanta IDEAS Challenge, "Typical American Families" was made possible through a $2,500 grant. Funding from the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta was used to offer free portrait sessions to participating families, who were selected from among more than 200 applicants.

"It was a journey of discovery," Mackey says. "It's been amazing to have the opportunity to dig deeper into these manifestations of family. People all around us are overcoming some amazing obstacles to be a family and are doing so with strength and courage."

Photographs in the exhibit highlight the many configurations that family life can take in America, Mackey says. "People invited us into their homes where they prepared meals, braided their daughter's hair, cared for an autistic son  — it just offers a spectrum of intimate moments," he explains.

The project also broadens notions of how families are defined. "We photographed one family at 5 a.m. — a group of young people who were being dropped off at Forever Family, an organization focused on providing services to children with incarcerated parents and their families, including regular prison visits," Mackey says.

"You don't always think of families having a shared experience of incarceration, but people from this organization are brought together by these challenges and see themselves as family," he adds.

"Typical American Families" was inspired by Mackey's ongoing work on "Beautiful in Every Shade," an empowerment campaign that celebrates the breadth and depth of beauty in every human being.

That campaign grew out of  "50 Shades of Black," a multi-media art project launched by Mackey in 2013 — and funded in part by a grant from Emory's Center for Creativity & Arts — that explores the intersection of skin tone and sexuality in the shaping of identity through images and personal narrative.

Mackey has also helped develop the "Typical American Families" project into an online platform, which includes a photo gallery and narratives that profile families from across the country.

Those planning to attend the exhibit's opening reception are asked to register online. For questions, contact Mika Pettigrew at mdpetti@emory.edu.