Photography exhibitions Gordon Parks: Homeward to the Prairie I Come and Doug Barrett: Find Your Voice opened at the Beach Museum of Art earlier this month and will be on display until May 28, 2022.
Aileen June Wang, curator at the museum, tends to both exhibitions, working with co-curator Sarah Price on the Gordon Parks exhibition. She said the partnering exhibits are a perfect fit because of their similar themes addressing segregation, poverty and racism.
“I was thinking about what kind of contemporary exhibition I could partner with the Gordon Parks exhibition, so I was playing around with different ideas, and then when I saw Doug’s work, I was like, ‘That’s it!'” Wang said.
In 2019, Doug Barrett photographed Kevin Willmott’s visit to Kansas State for the art museum, so Wang said she was familiar with his work. After seeing one of his Instagram posts, she said she felt his photographs would be an excellent addition to the museum.
“I started following him on Instagram, and he’s prolific and very active on Instagram,” Wang said. “One of his posts caught my attention. In May of last year, he had posted a series of photographs that he took of the George Floyd protest in Junction City — it was the first one that happened at the end of May — and it was all the backs of people’s heads, and that intrigued me.”
After reading the image caption, Wang said she knew precisely where his work would fit in the museum.
“After seeing that post, I started looking more closely at his work and just found him to be such a remarkable photographer — and not just a photographer but an artist. His artistry is in visual images and in texts,” Wang said. “At the time, I was also working on the Gordon Parks exhibition, and it was always my plan to have not just the Gordon Parks exhibition but a partner exhibition of contemporary art. So, that clicked with me that I should have Doug Barrett’s show as the partner exhibition to Gordon Parks, and it just worked out perfectly.”
Barrett’s exhibition includes 13 black-and-white photographs covering three different series: Manhattan’s Yuma Street neighborhood, homeless veterans across the country and the George Floyd protests in Kansas.
“Any photographer, visual journalist, documentary photographer aspires to have their work in print at some point in a museum’s permanent collection,” Barrett said. “Once you are afforded that opportunity, it’s a checkbox that’s completed, but your work will forever live, and the opportunity to have it at the Beach Museum of Art is a huge honor. It’s humbling.”
Barrett, who settled in Manhattan after being stationed at Fort Riley, said it had been a winding journey to this point.
“I never really thought I could have a career in the arts,” Barrett said. “So, of course, I drifted off into careers that paid the bills and afforded me a way of life, and just due to life happening, I just decided, ‘You know what? Now’s a better time than ever to follow your passion and live through the eyes of the lens that I’ve always wanted to live through,’ and a couple years ago, I did that, and here I am.”
It is a journey that also landed one of his photographs in Time Magazine during the civil unrest of 2020.
“A lot of the major outlets were looking for inclusiveness within photography, and one of those outlets was ‘Everyday Black America,'” Barrett said.
The outlet provides African-American male and female photographers and other photographers a platform to share their voices through their work.
“So, during that time last year, I was posting my work to the page as a contributor, and the editor of Time Magazine called me, told me that he loved that particular image and that he wanted to run it full spread in the magazine during the protests,” Barrett said.
However, that was not the only issue in which the magazine would use the photograph.
“Then at the end of the year in the ‘2020 in Review,’ they ran it on the first page of the magazine for the end of the year top photos,” Barrett said. “The message on the image — which you can see at the Beach Museum of Art — is ‘Stop the Hate,’ so it’s a key message that will forever live, I believe.”
A caption from Barrett accompanies each photograph, and a selected quote is on the wall above each of the three series. Bella Stark, sophomore in art education, said she appreciates the one above the Yuma Street neighborhood series.
“I really like the statement, ‘What I’ve experienced only about through history books, you’ve lived through,'” Stark said. “Every time I walk in there, I read it, and it’s really impactful to think about how the older generation — all of the things they’ve experienced and endured — all of us in the younger generation have only read about and haven’t witnessed it, and it’s very touching to think about.”
Wang said while her job is only to present the photographs in the exhibition, she hopes Barrett’s work will affect the people who view them — similar to Stark.
“I think that different people will take away different things from this exhibition,” Wang said. “Different people will be drawn to different images. My hope is every person will find a couple of images that really move them, and they’ll take away something from those that move them the most, and it could be different for every person.”
Along with that impact, Barrett is aware he is photographing similar themes to what Gordon Parks photographed decades ago.
“I’m photographing the same things: segregation with Yuma Street, poverty with homeless veterans and racism within the civil unrest and the protests of George Floyd,” Barret said. “So, it’s ironic, but at the same time, it’s a huge honor.”