A crowd of nearly 100 gathered at the Emory University Center for Ethics to view the unveiling of the photo exhibit, TYPICAL AMERICAN FAMILIES–ATLANTA. As winner of the 2014 IDEAS Challenge grant from One Region Atlanta, Carlton Mackey utilized the funds to partner with long time collaborator and BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE™ Co-Director, Ross Oscar Knight. Their idea was to build upon the mission of their existing platform at www.typicalamericanfamilies.com which celebrates the diversity of family and challenges the limited, normative understandings about what “family” can be.
In December 2014, the AJC featured a story by Shelia Poole about the duo’s winning idea which also included a call for submissions. The community response was overwhelming. Over 200 Atlanta-area families submitted personal stories and photos in support of the mission of the project and for consideration to be chosen for a photo shoot with Ross Oscar Knight.
Ultimately, twelve families were chosen and, over the course of several months, were photographed by Knight in areas reflective of the family’s personality and personal narrative. These environments included public settings such as restaurants and parks, while others were photographed in various parts of their home.
Mackey also documented the journey and produced a video documentary chronicling the families as they engaged at each of the photo shoots with each other and Knight. “I had never met Ross before the shoot,” explained Antoinette Ellison in the documentary “but the photo shoot seemed so natural. Before [Ross] left it was as if he were part of the family.”
Prior to the May 7th unveiling event, none of the families saw their photos nor the video documentary. Even upon entering the photo exhibit space, each image was covered. The families were invited to come up one by one to uncover their photo.
The Ellison family, photographed in their home, prepared Sunday breakfast as part of their photo shoot. In an emotional moment during the community conversation facilitated by Center for Ethics Director Paul Root Wolpe, Gregory C. Ellison III, who just a week prior to the photo shoot mourned the loss of his grandmother, stated that the angle Knight captured their family portrait made him feel as if his “grandmother was looking down on his family [from heaven].”
The exhibit will be on display at the Emory University Center for Ethics until June 30. Mackey and Knight are also seeking support to aid with traveling the exhibit throughout the city and ultimately hosting Typical American Family photo shoots and community dialogues across the country.
Photos by Loyall Hart for Ross Oscar Knight Photography