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Photographer Focuses On The Extraordinary Ordinary

"I just wanted to spend time with family and friends, trying to figure out what kind of relationship could happen if I put a camera between us."
Chicago-based photographer and educator Cecil McDonald Jr. explores quiet, intimate moments in the latest collection of his work, "In the Company of Black," currently on display at the University Galleries in Uptown Normal.

Photographing family and friends exclusively in their homes, McDonald tried to capture what those relationships look like.

"I was very specific with every little detail."

"That's a question that I'm always asking, because I'm an image maker, of course. So I'm always asking what does that thing look like, and often that thing is abstract. What does love look like, what does intimacy look like and seeing how you can put that on film and exhibit that thing."

McDonald hopes that viewers feel the intimacy of the photographs.

"Which to me, kind of warms me up to be a better person in a relationship, whether that's intimate family or friends or colleagues or just relating to each other as human beings. I want people to feel that warmth, that intimacy."

Artist Cecil McDonald, Jr.
Credit Laura Kennedy / WGLT
Artist Cecil McDonald Jr.'s work is not only on display at the University Galleries, it's featured in a new book from Candor Arts.

When he stands behind the lens of his camera, McDonald captures what he calls "the extraordinary ordinary"—people in the act of just being themselves on a regular day, be it walking from room-to-room, watching TV, cleaning or other mundane moments that are tinged with the intimacy of living. McDonald focused in on the details of the moments he captured, arranging small but telling references to art and culture, including albums from Miles Davis and Billie Holiday, an issue of Artforum magazine, books by Malcolm X and Aaron Douglas, and images of the black male in contemporary art.

"I was very specific with every little detail, making sure that it speaks out to someone who knows. I know there's an audience who know those references. You want to speak to eveyone, but you know that there are people who speak your language, the language of art." 

"In the Company of Black" is up at the Univeristy Galleries through Oct. 14.

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Reporter, content producer and former All Things Considered host, Laura Kennedy is a native of the Midwest who occasionally affects an English accent just for the heck of it. Related to two U.S. presidents, Kennedy appalled her family by going into show business.