The Coronado Public Library’s new photo exhibition, “As He Saw It… Photographs by Major Morris,” can be viewed in the library’s main exhibit corridor hall until March 5. Despite an early hiccup brought on by the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, a closing reception for the exhibition will now take place on Friday, March 4.
The reception, to be held in the Library’s Winn Room from 6:15 to 7:30 pm, will feature Major’s wife, Anne-Grethe Morris, who will speak about her husband and his work. Visitors can also enjoy live music by jazz duo Robert Thorson and Kamau Kenyatta at this free event with mask-wearing required.
The exhibit, which opened on January 21, features a series of over 60 black and white 1960s-era photos taken by Major Morris, a WWII veteran and university professor who professed his staunch and lifelong support for education. The opening reception originally scheduled to coincide with this date was postponed in light of the library’s temporarily increased pandemic restrictions. While a new reception date is yet to be announced, the exhibit still offers a stimulating artistic perspective for Coronado visitors and residents alike. Uniquely, it is also enhanced by proximity to more information about Morris which can be found in the library’s collection just a few paces from the photos themselves.
Library Director Shaun Briley hopes the public will find the exhibition of these photos from a top artist moving and interesting. “They offer a humanizing depiction of a minority neighborhood in the 1960s, which is something worth reflecting on in African American history month,” Briley said. “The photographer devoted his life to education, nurturing children and their dreams for a better future and this comes across in many of the photos.” Though the pandemic continues on, the exhibit is just one way the library continues its quest to enhance Coronado’s access to information, arts, and community.
The photo series, as Briley references, mostly focuses on simple scenes from daily life and childhood, transporting the viewer to a bygone era. Some of the featured photos also center the social and political upheaval of the late ’60s and early ’70s, such as the 1968 scene from “The People’s March on Poverty.” However, by his own admission, Morris’ favorite photos were those that featured young people with hope in their eyes. Morris, who was born in 1921 and grew up in a poor Cincinnati neighborhood during the Great Depression, directly cited his upbringing as inspiration for the subjects he often portrayed.
“In my photographic experience I have always been drawn to capturing images of what life was for me as I groped my way through an underprivileged youthful existence, what life continues to be for so many young people living in circumstances similar to those of my early childhood, and in capturing those images, expressing what I feel about the strength and beauty of those children who refuse to be victims,” Morris said. As a former student who dropped out of high school to support his family only to eventually become a graduate of Harvard University, Morris also emphasized the importance of the curiosity, dreams and potential to flourish which he found in his photographic subjects despite the poverty of some of their surroundings.
After Morris’ stint serving as part of the last all-black cavalry division in the U.S. Army in the ‘40s, he learned about the science and technology of developing photos while he was working as a lab technician for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the 1950s. Ultimately, after lifelong careers in both education and photography, in 1997 Morris and his wife retired to Escondido where he resided until his death in 2016. His legacy continues through periodic exhibitions and the multiple books which he self-published (and can also be found in the library’s book catalog), “Escape from Black Bottom” and “Nurture Their Dreams.” Morris’ passion for education also continues to be honored through the “Nurture Their Dreams Endowed Scholarship ” established in his name to support underrepresented students at Portland State University, his last professorial institution before his retirement.
After taking in the exhibit, visitors can also find more information on Morris, his life and works at majormorris.net; merchandise and prints are also available for sale.