2003 — student winner
Christopher Capozziello (born 1980) is a freelance photographer and a founding member of the AEVUM photography collective. His work is primarily about inviting the viewer into personal stories in order to understand different facets of life. His projects often make unpleasant realities beautiful, not my misleading anyone, but by allowing the viewer to stop and look more deeply at the subject.
Christopher’s work has been honored by World Press Photo, Pictures of the Year International, the Alexia Foundation, the Aftermath Project Grant, the National Headliner Awards, the China International Press Photo Contest, Days Japan, PDN Photo Annual, Photolucida’s Critical Mass, Review Santa Fe, American Photography, the Golden Light Awards, Communication Arts, the Magenta Foundation, Blurb Photography Book Now, National Press Photographers Association, Px3 – Prix de la Photographie, and was awarded the Berenice Abbott Emerging Photographer Prize, among others.
His clients and publications include AARP Bulletin, Christianity Today, The Dallas Morning News, Days Japan, Education Week, Le Monde Magazine, L’Express, The Globe and Mail, The International Herald Tribune, Newsweek, The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, Open Society Institute, Samaritan’s Purse, The Sunday London Times Magazine, TIME, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Wall Street Journal, World Vision, and others. He has worked for The Sun Herald in Gulfport, Mississippi, and The Dallas Morning News in Dallas, Texas.
He currently lives in New Haven, Connecticut, where he accepts assignments and works on long-term personal projects.
How has the Alexia grant influenced your career?
The work I submitted for the grant on the Ku Klux Klan was the start of everything for me. When I was awarded in the student division I was finding out who I was as a photographer and storyteller. The funds helped me to continue working on the story and at the same time, communicated to me that the work had worth.
How did your project lead to greater exposure or solutions for your issue of focus?
It is often difficult to get to the bottom of why people believe what they believe, but through the countless conversations I have had with Klansmen, Klanswomen and their children, I have found that often times people don’t act based on reality: they act based on the stories they believe about reality; and people believe stories for all sorts of reasons. Those individual stories have helped in not only understanding the people in my pictures but also have lead me to better questions. In some cases, people have left the Klan because of those questions.
Tell us about a moment from the project that you will never forget.
One of the most profound moments in this story came from a young man named David who is the same age as me. I listened for an entire summer about what David believed, and I listened to his explanations about why he believed it, none of which made any sense. He used scriptures from the Old Testament whose context I had little to no understanding of. Then, one night, while he sat on the hood of his car he told me about his mother and how two black men murdered her back in 1992. This story was never among his reasons for joining the Klan at such a young age. Finally we had arrived at a reason that made sense. I believed it wrong, but it was understandable. Later, he continued to explain his position and he used a scripture from the New Testament,
John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
…that whoever believes in him.
Immediately I asked him about my friend, who was a strong believer in Jesus and who goes to Mass every weekend. My friend was African American. Would he be permitted everlasting life?
David paused a moment and said he had never thought about it that way before. He said, based on the scripture, he thought my friend would have eternal life.
Listening to one story lead to another story, which months later lead to an email that David wrote me. He said, “Chris, I’ve been thinking a lot about your interviews and your conversations and I think the Klan has it all wrong. I’m leaving.”
Have you, or do you plan on expanding your project? How so?
Over the years, this project has been something I return to once or twice a year. As I get wrapped up in other non-commissioned projects closer to home, the Klan story has been something that I have felt I would return to one day on a more full time basis. I am currently working on this story again more heavily, with the intent of wrapping up things up. Currently, I am in talks with interested book publishers.
How has being a part of the Alexia community changed the way you view the world?
The Alexia Foundation has been another light in a small group of organizations that care to look more deeply at issues with the intent of seeing change. They have given myself and other colleagues hope that in an editorial economy that is difficult to see longer form stories realized, there are other avenues for seeing work produced. And, most importantly, the work the Alexia Foundation awards always runs against our insular tendencies and opens all of us up to understanding experiences and ways of life outside our own.
One hundred and thirty-five years after the founding of one of America’s largest White Supremacist organizations, the Ku Klux Klan continues to pass the torch to its next generation. The children raised in the Klan know no other world. This is the core of my visual exploration.
History is filled with powers and authorities with the ‘mission’ of God working to transform the world. The KKK is no exception. They seem like remains of a forgotten past - still donning hoods and lighting crosses in the year 2003-but the Klan perseveres and their ideals live on. If we have any hope of understanding our society as a whole we need to honestly look at all of its parts-even the Klan.
A vision of hate merges with every image of the KKK. Why do they hate? They see themselves as a group that advocates the need for white people to asset or regain the power they feel has been lost in America. The Klan sees a multicultural America favoring people of color over whites and opening its borders to immigrants from non-whites countries.
A pattern emerges when looking at the Klan’s history. Activity surfaces at times of change: the end of the Civil War, the beginning of new waves of immigration just after the turn of the 20th century, the onset of the Depression, the 60’s civil rights era, and now the position of non-white people in a new global economy. Activity and membership have soared during these times of transformation; the torch and ideologies, too, have been passed along.
By looking at the children’s lives, I ask questions about this movement; perhaps understanding the development of a child’s value will help us understand the sub-culture that is the Klan. Like vessels of clay, children take the shape of hands that mold them. As younger generations are filled with the Klan’s message, many of them will grow in the way of their mothers and fathers.
During the summer of 2002, I spent two months on the Mississippi Gulf Coast interning at a newspaper. On assignment one day, by mix of circumstances, I had my first encounter with the KKK. From that experience, on a humid July night, as the sun set, I made my first photograph of a Klansman. It was the Imperial Wizard of the South Mississippi Knights on the evening of his own wake. I continued to photograph the Klan for the rest of the summer.
Despite differences in our perspectives, most Klan members I’ve worked with recognize the importance of the historical documentation of their present day activities. As a result, I was invited to witness and photograph rallies and cross lighting; and even eat dinner with some members and their families. Since returning to school I have kept in contact through emails, letters, phone calls and mailing pictures in the meantime. For me, the historical importance includes not just what exists now, but how the next generation becomes socialized in a group that so few understand. My work with the KKK has been and will continue to be an exploration of why people hate and how they learn to hate. A quest for world peace is a quest to end hate and only by understanding hate can we ever hope to achieve a true peace.