Jonathan Calm is a contemporary American visual artist and Assistant Professor of Photography at Stanford University. His photography, video, installation, and performance art analyzes urbanism, automobility, and other socio-cultural themes. His series “Green Book - Journey Through the South” is an exploration and study on how African-American upward mobility is reflected through car ownership.
Calm’s “Green Book – Journey Through the South” was inspired by a trip through the American South in June 2016 when he was invited to take photographs for a BBC radio documentary on the Travelers’ Green Book (published 1936-66), the unique guide that provided information on secure and dignified accommodations for black Americans during the last three decades of the Jim Crow era.
Drawing on this research, Calm has produced a body of work that explores the importance and resonance of the Green Book from an at once historical and contemporary perspective. He looks into the ways in which its publication reflected black upward social mobility through car ownership, and traced a trajectory of empowerment fraught with hazard that played a major role in the struggle of the Civil Rights movement and could not be more central to the exposure to violence at the hands of law enforcement faced by young people of color on the road today.
Calm has lectured on his Green Book journey at the Museum of Art & Design in New York City, published an essay on two photographs he took of the most famous of its 'safe places,’ the Lorraine Motel (where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated), in a special issue of ART21 Magazine, commenting on the narrative of African-American automobility and the dangerous freedom of the open road when 'driving while black'. During the first half of 2018, his ‘African American Automobility’ exhibit was on display at Stanford Art Gallery and Fisk University’s Carl van Vechten Gallery.
Recognizing photography’s power as a universal language of documentation, Calm uses this medium to reveal profound stories.
Green Book (Jackson 1) depicts a once popular music and performance venue. Photographs on the side of the building are of Redd Foxx, Sammy Davis Jr., Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller.
Calm received his BFA from Montclair State University in 1997 and his MFA from Columbia University in 2000. His work has been exhibited at leading galleries and museums around the world, including at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), The Tate Britain, The Studio Museum in Harlem, and Stanford University.
You can watch a conversation discussing his artwork and inspirations with art advisor Danielle Wohl in the Talks with the Artists interview series below.