PHL Airport's Airport Exhibitions Program is celebrating its 25th anniversary. This is the final look back at one of the artists who participated in the program over the last 25 years.
Donald E. Camp
Donald E. Camp is Professor Emeritus and has more than 10 years as Artist-in-Residence at Ursinus College, where an art photography collection bears his name. His work has been exhibited extensively throughout the U.S., and he has been awarded prestigious fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and the Pew Charitable Trusts. After a career as a photographer for the Philadelphia Bulletin and Ebony Magazine, Don was 42 when he left photojournalism to enter art school.
2004-2005, Between Terminal C and D - Dust Shaped Hearts
Describe in general your artistic themes/subjects and the media that you work in.
I’ve been photographing portraits of African American men for almost 20 years. They are fathers, brothers, sons, artists, musicians, writers, religious leaders, participants in the Million Man March - all have had some impact on my life.
Growing up, any headshots I saw of Black men in the news media were either cartoons or criminals. That’s how America saw them. I wanted to counteract that story with images of Black men as something noble. My headshots are based on my former work as a newspaper photographer, but with a different atmosphere. My images typically feature tightly cropped, larger-than-life faces that look squarely at the viewer. They are dignified, sensitive, never smiling. I love blues music – I want my photographs to capture that rawness and the roots of one’s self. I want viewers to see the person in a neutral state to make up their own minds about the subject’s emotional state.
What did you exhibit at the airport and what inspired this particular body of work?
The Dust Shaped Hearts airport installation was part of my signature series by the same name that addresses social justice and racial equality. For the series I formulated a unique photographic process using a biological, chemical, and metaphysical process of creating photographic prints from casein and earth pigments, creating a dusty, milky finish. In this way, the materials almost become a metaphor for the images.
I am a member of the Baháʼí Faith and many of the writings in our religion references dust. I thought about how dust is used in sacred writings and spiritual references throughout history, and I wanted to visualize that in images. The name Dust Shaped Hearts was inspired by Robert E.Hayden’s book of poetry titled Heart-Shape in the Dust. He too was a Baha'i' and I admired him and his work very much.
What was it like exhibiting at the airport compared to where you usually display your work?
My wife and I were taking an early-morning flight and we noticed the custodial staff looking at the art. My work was doing what I wanted and that’s why I do what I do. It was a beautiful thing having it seen by so many people. Thousands of people may walk by the gallery where your work is, but they don’t go inside. At the airport, my work was seen by everyone whether they were interested in art or not.
What impact, if any, did the PHL opportunity have on your future work/career?
Your art is you putting yourself out there. I created Dust Shaped Hearts for me, and I intend to keep doing that.
Since my installation, I give myself extra time at airports to see the art; it’s always wonderful to see what other artists are doing.