Justin Maxon

Chester: Staring Down the White Gaze

About the Book

By H. “Herukhuti” Sharif Williams and Justin Maxon

Introduction and Significance
A culture of whiteness is one in which Anglo-European values,
cultural norms, and ways of viewing the world dominate a society and
marginalize other ways of being. A culture of whiteness allows white
supremacy to exist in a multicultural society. Growing up racialized as
white within such a society creates a way of viewing the world–a white
gaze–that colors the ways white photographers view the communities in
which they work, including Black, Indigenous and People of Color

Because it is grounded in a worldview and cultural context that is
different than BIPOC communities, the white gaze can produce images
of BIPOC that are oftentimes monstrous, pathetic, tragic, stereotypical,
exotic, pornographic etc, but always reflecting the photographer’s and
photojournalist’s relationship to whiteness and their perception of the
Other. Therefore, to critically consider the work of a white photographer
or photojournalist in which BIPOC are the subject, we must examine
their relationship to whiteness. This is the nature of our project, Chester.

Goals and Impact
Chester is a provocation: an invitation to individuals across
America to critically confront the beliefs and biases embedded in our
everyday lives. Cultural studies scholar, social critic and theater artist, H.
“Herukhuti” Sharif Williams, and photographic artist, Justin Maxon,
have developed an ongoing dialogue of identifying, examining, and
analyzing how whiteness, white supremacy, and white nationalism
operate in American visual culture. At the epicenter of this critical
conversation are two sets of images: the work Maxon completed as a
photographer and journalist, covering the city of Chester, Pennsylvania
from 2008-2016 and photographs from Maxon’s childhood archives.

Using the latter, Williams and Maxon built a visual glossary of white
racial tropes to unpack Maxon’s relationship to whiteness. They then use
this framework to reconsider Maxon’s work in Chester, along with other
contemporary and historical local media coverage of the city, to
elucidate the ways the white gaze reflects its own values using the
bodies of Black people.

Aesthetics and Content
Chester is designed by Teun van der Heijden and will be
published as collaborative book project of co-authors from the city who
tell their own narratives: Desire Grover, illustrator, Wydeen
Ringgold, citizen journalist, Leon Paterson, self taught photographer,
and Jonathan King, activist and educator. Throughout the pages of
Chester, the co-authors are in conversation with Maxon about his images
through handwritten text that analyzes, critiques, questions,
contextualizes, and interprets the nature of the white gaze that is placed
on their community.

© 2023 Justin Maxon. All Rights Reserved.