I was recently able to visit the Fairfield University Art Museum, where I was especially drawn to a particular exhibition: “Robert Gerhardt: Mic Check.”
This exhibition is a photography project by photojournalist Robert Gerhardt, in which he documents the past seven years of the Black Lives Matter movement. From 2014 to 2021, Gerhardt captured candid scenes of New York City’s Black Lives Matter protests in his incredible body of work. The title of this work is born from the shouts “mic check!” that could be heard among the crowds of protestors. One person would call this phrase and it would prompt others to respond, creating unity among the crowd and enabling the spread of a speaker’s message.
Gerhardt’s project began in late November of 2014, following the killing of a black teenager, Michael Brown, by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Just a few weeks later, white police officers were cleared of wrongdoing in the killing of an unarmed black man named Eric Garner. These are only two of the countless number of African Americans who have been killed at the hands of police brutality. People took to the streets in outrage over these killings and in opposition to the police brutality and racism that persists in this country today.
Some of these protests received great media coverage while others were smaller and not as well-known. Gerhardt, himself, claims that it was his mission to follow the Black Lives Matter Movement to provide coverage of and shed light on both the large and the small protests in his body of work.
Before visiting Gerhardt’s exhibit, I had done some research on this photojournalism project and I had seen some examples of his work in online galleries. However, after visiting, I can confidently say that my online research pales in comparison to the experience of viewing this body of work in its physical form.
This exhibition is truly an emotional experience. The photographs are placed in chronological order so I was taken through eight years of protests as I walked along the wall of images. Walking through this exhibit, I felt as though I were stepping onto the streets of New York City myself. I witnessed the protests as they came to life in the photographs. I could feel the pain, the frustration and the anger of the protestors. I could hear the shouts and the cries for justice and equality.
I was particularly struck by the way in which Gerhardt’s photography placed great emphasis on the signs held by the protestors. They seemed to be the primary focus of much of his work. Some of the signs read “Black Lives Matter.” Some of them pictured the faces of those who have been killed. Some of them held striking statements such as “Stop killing our children” or “No Justice, No Peace!”
These images, faces and messages depicted in Gerhardt’s photography are not staged scenes. They are real people facing real injustice. I believe that Gerhardt does an excellent job at honestly capturing the pain, the struggle and the determination of the Black Lives Matter protests in his work.
We can look back at these photographs from 2014 and recognize that the Black Lives Matter protests have brought and are still bringing about change. In more recent years, after the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, we have seen some attempts to reform police departments and rethink the handling of incidents that do not involve violence.
However, this progress does not erase the heart-breaking fact that we continue to see the list of names grow as more black Americans fall victim to police brutality. Gerhardt recognizes that the Black Lives Matter Movement has not reached its end and he plans to continue documenting its progress through his photography.
“Robert Gerhardt: Mic Check” is not a body of work that I can serve justice to in simply reviewing. This is an exhibit that you must experience for yourself. It is a body of work that captures a historic movement in our nation’s history; a movement that we are still experiencing and living through today.
Gerhardt’s exhibition is here at the Fairfield University Art Museum until Dec. 18, 2021, and admission is free to all! I would highly recommend stopping by to experience this exhibition yourself.
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