The story behind a recent photograph of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, by Rod A. Hill
One of the experiences I truly love as a photographer is waking up filled with excitement and inspiration. Christmas morning 2017 was one of those days. Excited as a child opening his toys, I grabbed my clothes and camera at five a.m. with a clear intention to go out and discover something wonderful to photograph. During these moments, the “not knowing” is the best part. It reminds me of the many hours I spent as a teenager learning to shoot with my first camera, an old Argus C3 I bought from a friend.
“The National Tree,” I thought, and so I headed there first. As I turned onto Constitution Ave. from 17th Street, I was quite disappointed to find the Christmas lights were off. In front of me to the right however, I noticed the light from the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The light was warm, gold and glowing against the backdrop of the black pre-dawn sky.
I had never really noticed the museum at night. As I parked my car, the southeastern sky was just beginning to reveal the first hint of dawn approaching. With almost no traffic around, I was able to walk around the building in the street and really take it in from all angles. I was fascinated by the way the light from the building produced changing patterns and colors as I walked around the museum. From a 14th Street perspective, what stood out most was the glow of the light shining from within.
By now the clouds above the museum were becoming more pronounced, reflecting street light as bright shades of red and pink. My heart began swelling with emotion the more I connected with what I was seeing and feeling. I recalled my recent visit to the museum, and the many emotions I experienced, seemingly all at once, as I walked through the history of the plight and accomplishments of my people. I also knew these colors weren’t going to last long, so I needed to decide on the best composition quickly.
I was very pleased to find one of the the streetlights on 14th Street near the building off, as this was the only side of the building where the gold color of the building lights was not interrupted. I chose this view to compose the story of what I felt in my heart that Christmas morning: despite the darkness of our past, the Light and Spirit of the African American people continues to shine brightly from within. It is in this Light and Spirit that we celebrate: our growth; our trials; the sacrifices of our ancestors; our families; and the countless contributions we have made to the greatness of this nation.
I believe it is in the brilliance of this Light that African Americans truly understand the importance of equality for all people. It is also in this Spirit that we find the courage and strength to stand firm in our commitment to achieve true, lasting freedom and equality for all Americans. For genuine greatness is not measured merely by the wealth and power of a nation’s few. It is, rather, measured by the wealth of solutions, discoveries, and achievements of every person empowered with limitless opportunity in a free and equal society.
Rod A. Hill is a DC resident and owner of Rod Hill Portraits LLC, a DC based studio specializing in corporate events, portrait photography and capturing the beauty of the national monuments and outdoor spaces of the nation's capital.
See the image at https://www.rodhillportraits.com/-/galleries/art