Click! Festival: Persevere | North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh  |  Through Oct. 31  

Over the past year and a half, countless North Carolinans have dealt with hardships ranging from illness to financial loss, often fighting their way through one obstacle only to find another waiting around the corner. It’s no wonder, then, that the theme of the new Click! Photography Festival exhibit now open at the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) is “persevere.”

Featuring 77 images from photographers across the country, the exhibit launched on October 1 and will be on view outside the museum, near the Ellipse along the eastern edge of the Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park, throughout the month.

Persevere is one of several photography events run by Click! Photography Festival, which is held annually every October. Although the themes differ for each exhibit, Persevere holds particular meaning, in light of the pandemic, for photographers and viewers alike.

“For many artists, the camera served as a tool of therapeutic intervention during the pandemic,” a NCMA press release reads. “Whether via a cell phone, DSLR, or 4X5, a camera helped rebalance and care for their emotional, spiritual, artistic, and mental needs. The process of creating a photographic image soothed our souls. Persevere is a selection of responses to the failures and ruptures in our world, but also how we expressed love, cared for ourselves and each other.”

The works featured in the exhibit were selected from over 400 submissions and were chosen by jurors Jennifer Dasal, NCMA’s curator of contemporary art, and de’Angelo Dia, a poet, theologian, and doctoral candidate at Union Presbyterian Seminary.

For photographer Penelope James, whose ethereal, black-and-white self-portraits depict her walking through water and resting in a bed of clouds, the contest was a way to temporarily put aside the claustrophobia of the pandemic.

“I couldn’t have the freedom to express myself or do what I wanted, so I just created these imaginative worlds in my living room,” James tells the INDY.

Taking the photos, she adds, “became an escape and really helped me persevere through the [pandemic]—just stick it out and keep going, like all of us did.”

Photographer Catherine Carter, meanwhile, says she chose to channel the “collective stress” of the last many months into the images she submitted to the festival. Three of the resulting works—striking, eerie photomontages created over the course of 2020 and 2021—are on display outside the museum.

“I believe that collecting images from artists/photographers about their response to these last few difficult years is a wonderful way to preserve and appreciate the emotional roller coaster that we have all experienced,” Carter says.

Visitors to the exhibit can walk along the photo-lined walls to see the many ways in which other artists chose to tackle the theme. While some of the images powerfully evoke the pain and struggle caused by the pandemic, others showcase optimism for the future and brighter takeaways about increased community support.

Persevere is far from the only photography exhibit to use art to showcase the ongoing effects of the pandemic. Last summer, The New-York Historical Society in Manhattan unveiled an outdoor installation displaying photos and stories of New Yorkers’ experiences in quarantine, and this September, the San Francisco Arts Commission and media organization CatchLight debuted an exhibition that highlighted the strength and spirit of the city’s residents.

And then online, there’s the Covid Photo Museum, which is described as the “world’s first virtual museum dedicated to the curation of photography captured during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The museum, available to peruse without cost, features images submitted from both professional and amateur photographers across the globe. These have been and continue to be challenging times, but through art, people everywhere are able to share their experiences and bear witness to the pain and resilience of others.

While the photo exhibit outside NCMA will be on display through October, there will be an official walk-through of the exhibit on October 10 followed by a slideshow and a keynote presentation by photographer Titus Heagins.

Those unable to attend the event or visit NCMA will be able to view a slideshow of the selected images at the Click! Photo Fair on October 17 at the Durham Central Park Pavilion as well as in the windows of Durham’s 21c Museum Hotel until the month’s end.  

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