If there was an earthquake and you could only save one book, which one would it be?
For me, there is a high chance it will be I Dream A World by Brian Lanker.
Surprise choice for some but not when you hear about the impact this book has on me.
Published in 1989, the year I started my journalism education in the University of Missouri, Lanker and his amazing book taught me many important lessons I did not receive in the classrooms.
I am the kind of photographer I am today because deep inside, I want/wanted to be a Lanker.
Originally a news photographer with news organisations with well-known visual tradition like Topeka Capitol-Journal and Eugene Register-Guard, Lanker was a true trailblazer.
In Oregon, he championed photojournalism in a way very few of his peers were able to, starting, from what I heard, by influencing the folks at the sports section.
He had reasoned that sports being action-packed and least respected section in many newspapers, would be most accommodating to a maverick like himself.
And he wasn’t wrong.
And once he had successfully converted one group into his way of thinking, he would move on to other sections and before you know, everyone in the newsroom was singing from the same hymn sheet.
I listened to all these stories about him and made mental notes that one day, I would go somewhere and do the same.
I tried, but did not go very far.
But the journey is always more important than the destination. Right?
That’s not all.
I believe I have read every single profile of the 75 women featured in the book. I also became addicted to Black American women literature because of the authors featured in his book.
Before that, I was only familiar with Alice Walker’s The Color Purple because it was made into a film.
I would go on to read Toni Morrison, Ann Petry, Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Angelou.
And I actually took a class in that and aced it.
My little universe had suddenly exploded. There is another world.
I also took a class called Sociology of Sports with a professor who believed that the apparent racial equality was a myth made worse by media portrayal of successful black athletes, making us believe that they are respected in the society at large.
Professor Richard Hessler was the first to plant this question in my head, “If black athletes are treated equal, why are there so few black managers in the major leagues?”, something I still ask myself every week that I watch the English Premier League.
Funny enough, the only module I failed in college was Blacks in America and I didn’t even care. I guess I was happy to be the only non-white, non-black student in that class.
As an independent photographer and with opportunities to work on personal projects, Lanker’s approach, especially his attention to the words and pictures is still the standard I try to achieve.
Perhaps it is not a stretch to say that while I Dream A World is the title of a poem by Langston Hughes, that dream is one we are want to have.
Tonight, and every night.
Oh wait, I didn’t even write a word about the beautiful portraits?