Photographer uses positive lens

Photo by Henry Chaney

The Good Shepherd Gallery has come full circle.

Sister Glynis Mary McMamanon, RGS, specifically chose Ferguson as home for her art ministry as a result of the events surrounding the death of Michael Brown Aug. 9, 2014. Ferguson was in need of good news and what better way than art to sooth the community. The gallery opened in November 2015.

In the art show, "Change the Narrative" — which runs Friday, Aug. 4, through Saturday, Aug. 26, at the gallery — photographer Henry Chaney focuses on what he calls "the positivity" in the Ferguson unrest of three years ago. Peaceful protests, positive interactions between protesters and police, training sessions for both and more run counter to the "story" of that time. National and international media focused on the violence in the night hours and conflicts with law enforcement.

"Everything negative," said Chaney, whom Sister Glynis describes as "an extremely gentle, respectful man." "If no one changes the narrative, that's what everybody's going to think."

For many viewers, media coverage seemed to indicate Ferguson — even the entire St. Louis area — was dangerous, with violence, looting and arson for weeks after Brown's death and again two months later after a St. Louis County grand jury opted to not press charges against the police officer. Chaney's friends from college at Oakwood University in Huntsville, Ala., called from around the country, concerned about his safety.

"They'd say, 'What's going on in St. Louis?'" said Chaney, a Jennings native. "They thought it was a war zone. I'm like, 'St. Louis is not ablaze. I'm OK.'

"All the stuff happened in less than a mile radius. It's hard to describe unless you were there. It wasn't anger happening down there all day."

Instead, Chaney felt a sense of community, mainly in daylight hours before darkness fell and imported protesters clashed with police.

"The first thing I saw out there was the community coming together as one and showing support for (Brown's) family," he said. "People had signs, were voicing their concerns, giving out water. I saw a lot of positivity right from the get-go. I hadn't seen a community come together like that. ... I saw a lot of love and compassion."

Chaney's faith tradition played a role in his positive viewpoint. He belongs to Northside Seventh-day Adventist Church in Jennings, and Oakwood University is a Seventh-day Adventist school. His previous art show at Good Shepherd captured the beauty of God's creation, the focus of Pope Francis in "Laudato Si'."

"God is in everything," Chaney said. "You have to look at it with a different lens. You have to have that love. ... That's where it comes from — God."

Chaney has been exploring photography since college and pursing it professionally for about seven years, in addition to his day job. He prefers journalistic/editorial photography because it shows people as they are, candid in their natural environments. "People being themselves ... is more beautiful anyway," he said.

He's adept at portraits as well, which is part of "Change the Narrative." To counter images of angry faces amid violence at the time in Ferguson, he added portraits "showing black people doing normal, everyday things — at home, in parks, chillin' out. It signifies the value of black people, which seems to be lost upon the world. (The portraits) give the viewer a sense of the value of a person, just the value anybody has as a human being.

"With changing the mindset of what happened in Ferguson, my idea was to change the narrative of how you view black people as well. You have to change the narrative on two fronts."

Good Shepherd Gallery was a natural fit for the exhibit.

"I put it back in Ferguson, so people would come to Ferguson, to talk about Ferguson and hopefully meet people from Ferguson," he said. "Start the dialogue and change the views of what they were getting from the media." 

>> Henry Chaney

At a glance

Age: 29

Hometown: Jennings

Education: Riverview Gardens High School; bachelor's degree in social work, Oakwood University, Huntsville, Ala.

Website: www.destinyart.net 

'Change the Narrative'

What: Art exhibit focusing on positive aspects of protests after Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, with portraits showing the beauty and goodness of black people.

Who: Photographer Henry Chaney

When: Friday, Aug. 4, to Saturday, Aug. 26

Where: Good Shepherd Gallery, 252 S Florissant Road in Ferguson

Gallery hours: Wednesday and Thursday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Friday, 2-8 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; and Tuesday by appointment; closed Sunday and Monday

Special events: The opening reception will be 6-9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 4, with Chaney speaking at 6 p.m. In addition, the gallery will host a gathering, featuring Chaney and police chaplain Pastor José Aguayo of Billy Graham Ministries, 7-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 9, which marks three years since Brown's death.

More information: (314) 522-1155 

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