Shattered windshields. Police officers in riot gear. A mother and her two daughters gazing nervously through a window during the 2015 Baltimore Protests.
Those are just a few of the images taken by award-winning photographer J.M. Giordano that are now part of his virtual exhibition at the Jewish Museum of Maryland titled “Gray in Black and White.”
“The exhibit came out of photographs I took in between working at City Paper,” says Giordano. “Traditionally, black and white is the language of photojournalism because it forces you to pay attention to the subjects more so than the colors surrounding the subjects.”
A Baltimore-based photojournalist whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, GQ, Rolling Stone and Playboy, as well as in a permanent exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Giordano spoke about his photographs during a virtual program May 7 titled “Current Voices: Uprising +5.”
The program, presented by the JMM in partnership with the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History & Culture, launched Giordano’s pop-up exhibit. The live event was recorded and is available for viewing.
“I approached the Jewish Museum of Maryland a few months ago because of the Jewish community’s role historically in civil rights,” Giordano says. “It was important to include the community in this narrative, and the Jewish museum was the best place to do that.”
Giordano, who teaches black-and-white photography at the Baltimore School for the Arts, photographed the series during the Apr. 2015 protests in the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody.
“This is a commemoration of the uprising,” says Tracie-Guy Decker, the JMM’s deputy director. “At the JMM, we believe Baltimore matters and commemorating this moment in time is living up to our values that people matter, things matter, place matters, learning matters and action matters.”
In addition to the virtual program, the exhibit will be online indefinitely and includes a variety of activities created by museum employees to help students contemplate the images and events they captured.
“The Venn diagram of people that identify as Jewish and have been directly affected by structural racism is small, but it’s growing,” Guy-Decker says. “There are Jews who are black and have been affected by structural racism, even within our own Jewish communities. Personally, I recognize the tiny choices I make, compounded over a period of time, that contribute to the oppression of others. So in that sense, I’m not directly oppressed but I am directly affected.”
The digital exhibit was curated by another prominent Baltimore photographer, Devin Allen, whose photography from the uprising was featured on the cover of Time magazine. Allen joined Giordano during the museum’s virtual program, where the two discussed their work, the anniversary of the uprisings and what lessons they feel still need to be learned.
“I have studio portraits taken five years later of activists who were on the frontlines,” says Giordano. “This exhibit was supposed to be a part of a joint show featuring those portraits as well in order to bring the story full circle. There is a lot of baggage around what happened. People are exhausted and can see that nothing is going to change.”
Giordano is no stranger to using images to tell stories. He is doing it again now to document the world during the coronavirus pandemic with his pair of series, “Living Behind Glass” and “The Essentials.”
“I have ideas that go through my head all the time, and I read an essay in The Atlantic about people living behind glass,” Giordano says. “I thought living in isolation around here was interesting. And when I started photographing those in isolation, I noticed they were people who could work from home.
“That series led me to photograph people who need to interact with the public all of the time, like midwives, funeral directors, journalists and the arabbers [street vendors with horse-drawn carts] who are delivering food to the elderly and at-risk populations,” he says.
The final images in Giordano’s pandemic series will be portraits of those who have lost loved ones to the virus.
“As a photojournalist, my goal is to make a linear narrative through pictures — those sheltered in place, those working and those who have lost someone to coronavirus,” he says. “The series are different styles, but all one body of work.”
While taking the pandemic pictures, Giordano says he had no physical interaction with any of his subjects. Many of them were photographed behind closed windows or outdoors at a distance of greater than six feet. He says he always wore a face mask made by his wife, and he communicated with his subjects via cellphone.
Like the rest of the world, Giordano says he is living one day at a time and is not certain what he will do with the COVID-19 photo series. But he has hopes for the future.
“I want to be able to look back on these photographs in five years, like with the Freddie Gray images,” Giordano says. “Maybe then the pictures can go somewhere, and people will be able to look at them and say either we are still going through this or look back on what we went through.”