Feeling the Spirit


A ritual procession of people in costume.

Brazil, Bahia. 1990. A procession of worshippers dressed as Candomble orishas. The procession was led by Oxala, King of the Orishas, with Ogun, the Orishsa of Iron, following next to the beach outside Salvador, Bahia. The orishas are the dieties of Candomble, the Yoruba religion in Brazil.

© Chester Higgins, Jr.
Chester Higgins, Jr.

Chester Higgins, Jr., is the author of the photo collections Black Woman (1970), Drums of Life (1974), Some Time Ago (1980), and his latest book, Feeling the Spirit: Searching the World for the People of Africa (1994), a comprehensive look at the African Diaspora. His Elder Grace: The Nobility of Aging will be published in December 2000 by Bullfinch. He has been a staff photographer for the New York Times since 1975. His photographs have also appeared in ArtNews, the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Look, Life, Newsweek, Fortune, Ebony, Essence, Black Enterprise, GEO, and Archaeology. His work is the topic of the PBS film An American Photographer: Chester Higgins, Jr., and has aired on Sunday Morning News on CBS, The NewsHour on PBS, and Like It Is and Freedom Forum on ABC. His solo exhibitions have appeared at the International Center of Photography, the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of African Art, the Museum of Photographic Arts, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Newark Museum, the National Civil Rights Museum, and the Field Museum of Natural History. He is the recipient of grants from the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the International Center of Photography, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Andy Warhol Foundation.

Artist Statement

Chester Higgins, Jr.

Photography has been my tool to discover, confront, examine, and depict, through dispersion and connection, the existence of people of African descent.

My interest in these photographs is to capture each moment as it happens. I try to become invisible when I shoot so that my subjects will express themselves without interference. For me, this means becoming one with water, so that I can slide into crevices yet continue to flow from one space to another, going around and between the moments that comprise each situation. Water becomes my agent of transmission: it comes, it visits, it moves constantly, departing as quickly as it arrives on its way to the next moment, the next discovery.

In capturing these pure moments, I search for another important element, the spirit. Unseen but ever manifesting itself, the spirit is omnipresent. I try to record the signature of the spirit with what is apparent.

The desire, the need, to photograph opened an avenue of creativity and provided a voice for social commentary. I have learned how to take the camera and become a hunter of images.

Chester Higgins, Jr., spring 2000

Moving Walls is an annual exhibition series that explores a variety of social justice and human rights issues through documentary practice, and is produced by Open Society’s Culture and Art program. Moving Walls is exhibited at our offices in New York, London, and Washington, D.C., and includes five to nine discrete bodies of work.

Since 1998, Moving Walls has featured over 200 photographers and artists whose works address a variety of social justice and human rights issues.

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