Kareem Black Finds a Piece of History
History is all around us. It’s in the roads we walk on, the buildings we work in, and the way we interact with our neighbors. To forget our past is to forget who we are. The shadows of our history are what help us find the light for our future, and it is up to us to keep that history alive. That’s why The History Channel has revived the classic miniseries Roots, based on the 1976 novel by Alex Haley as an exploration of an African American life and the history that was hidden from him. The History Channel invited photographer Kareem Black to create a series of images introducing the characters and the mood of the show, something that Kareem Black leapt at. “As an African American artist the weight, gravity and significance of being asked to be a part of the retelling of this story and the re-imagining of this particular project was not lost on me,” he explains.
Kareem has made a career out of photographing very high-energy material, but Roots was something completely different and that wasn’t a problem at all. Most of his work is high energy because that’s who he is, but he’s quick to point out: he’s more than that. “At the same time, I’m a big nerd and history buff and I know every word to most Star Trek episodes,” Kareem says with a laugh. “I do think that there’s a duality but I don’t think it’s unique to me.” As Kareem notes, it’s a part of human nature to explore many facets of our experience just as History is doing with this new version of Roots.
To offer a faithful representation of the story Kareem met the cast on set, and a lot of those sets were located in places of real American history, including sites built through the crime of slavery. “I traveled to three separate plantations in Louisiana to take the portraits of the actors on six separate occasions,” Kareem says. “I'm not religious but this assignment went from being a job to feeling like some sort of a ‘pilgrimage.’ That's how it felt just being in those places. Seeing people dressed as they would have been in that period, as slaves, masters made the experience that much more intense.” Roots is about a man exploring his roots and how they dig into a huge part of American history that is a shame for all of us, but that excavation is crucial to how we shape our future. That history demands something different from each of us, and for Kareem it meant taking a sober look at this story and offering it to us as richly as he could.