Photography exhibit celebrates Black family and community

Last year, medical student John Johnson MD’23 turned to his photography as a way of processing the intense emotions surfacing after the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd. The result was a collection of powerful images of his family and community in Greenville, MS.

Johnson turned those images into an exhibit, “I Can’t Remember What I Yelled Back,” that is on display at The Warren Alpert Medical School building through May. Photos of Johnson’s cousin, niece, even his grandmother, depict the beauty and joy of Black lives in the American South.

In his artist statement, Johnson writes, “One of the more insidious forms racism takes is presenting Blackness as a monolith. While this project does work to deconstruct the facile understanding of Blackness many people hold, it was not made with the intention of proving that we are not a monolith. In an effort to prove, one is ultimately giving someone else the authority. The sole purpose of this project is to present a perspective that may not be otherwise encountered.”

Johnson wanted to exhibit his photographs in a place that his fellow medical students could not miss them: the first floor of the Medical School building. “To future physicians, patient perspectives are not optional. Presenting these photographs on the first floor means the viewer must engage with this perspective in one way or another. Whether that engagement be through careful consideration or by completely neglecting it, both scenarios are equally important,” he writes.

Because the Medical School building is not open to the public due to COVID-19 safety protocols, filmmaker and medical student Adeiyewunmi Osinubi ‘18 MD’22 created a companion video about the project so that it can be shared broadly.

Photographer John Johnson, a medical student at The Warren Alpert Medical School, talks about his photography exhibit. Film by Ade Osinubi.

Johnson graduated from Tougaloo College in 2019 with a degree in biology. He has exhibited his work in the Columbus Arts Council, Tougaloo College, and the Mississippi Museum of Art.

Support for the exhibit was provided by the Brown Arts Initiative, the AMS Arts Council, and the Provost’s Addressing Systemic Racism Fund.