Eze Amos' new Charlottesville exhibit highlights community strength
Photojournalist Eze Amos has a new exhibit in Charlottesville that includes more than 30 images he captured five years ago, during the Unite the Right rally. The roughly 10’x6’ photos hang from trees on the Downtown Mall through the end of September.
But the images are not the typical violent photos of white supremacists shouting and clashing with counter protesters. The display, called “The Story of Us,” depicts moments from August 2017, when community members came together during a traumatic time. Each photo includes a QR code that links to recordings of people in the photos telling their own stories.
Amos, in addition to speaking about the exhibit and his experiences at the rally in 2017, discussed living in Charlottesville and working at Albemarle County Fire Rescue.
The following has been edited for length and clarity.
VPM News: I’m going to start from the beginning. What’s your relationship to Charlottesville?
Eze Amos: I moved here from Nigeria back in 2008. It was the first time I came to the U.S., and I came straight to Charlottesville. And it's been home for me since then.
Did you experience culture shock when you got here?
Oh God, it was my first time leaving Nigeria, coming to the U.S. Hollywood only prepared me for some aspects of the culture.
Do you remember realizing that race was a sensitive topic in the United States?
I'll tell you the first time that someone told me anything about race, period. You know, because I banter, I take everything people say to me to be such. My now ex-wife, she just would pick those things out and be like, "Why would you let someone say that to you?" And then she started educating me that it is different here. They know better than to say stuff like that to you, whether you're ignorant of it or not. I was quickly made to understand my place.
I used to be a career firefighter. But that didn't go anywhere because I experienced firsthand racism at the fire department. At the time I got the job as a firefighter, I was, to the best of my knowledge, the only Black firefighter in the county of Albemarle.
I was one of the best students at the academy. But I quickly realized that the folks that they assigned me to be with didn't want me. Even thinking about it right now, it really hurts. I still avoid some of these people when I see them in the grocery store. Something just comes over me and I just want to run away.
But you know, the cool thing actually about that — of my experience of racism — was that it was the door that I needed to open. So, when they kicked me out, I was like, "Oh God, I want to go back and just keep photographing."
Do you remember the days leading up to August 11 and 12?
Oh, yes, yes. Most of us knew what was coming. People were calling and telling me, "Don’t go out, something bad is going to happen."
Did you at any point fear for your own safety?
Yeah, at every point. I was very scared. But the cool thing, and I know it happens to you, too, probably. Once you’re recording, you’re just sucked into that world. And that’s what got me through.
I was closer than we are right now to David Duke’s face. At that point, which would have gotten me either killed or beaten badly, I thought of throwing a punch at his face. I was so angry. I was like, "I should just take one for the team." Just go for it. Then I thought about it, "Yeah, it's unethical. I don't want to do this. I don't want to get myself in trouble. I have a little kid. Let me just do my thing."
And it was just minutes after that, we heard news that a car just ran into a crowd.
The thing about the show is, I deliberately am not including any photos of violence.
Why is that?
I want to tell a story of this community. I don’t want to keep promoting the idea of Charlottesville [being] an event. Are there some elements of racism in Charlottesville? Psh, yeah. I don’t want to say that’s not who we are, because what does that even mean? But that’s not what I think this community represents or this community wants to represent.
Editor's note: VPM News reached out to Albemarle chief Dan Eggleston. He declined to talk about Amos’ experience specifically, but said the department is evolving to become more inclusive, especially since Unite the Right.