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Young at art

Stories of Oklahoma’s latest generation are told via the lens of M.J. Alexander’s camera.

Mia Cantu April 4th, 2012

Portrait of a Generation: Sons and Daughters of the Red Earth
Oklahoma state Capitol, North Gallery
2300 N. Lincoln

Ricky Laster

Whether you’re a first- or fifth-generation Oklahoman, whether your family dates back to the Land Run or you just moved here yesterday, photographer M.J. Alexander’s new exhibit is likely to speak to you.

Portrait of a Generation: Sons and Daughters of the Red Earth remains on display through April 15 at the state Capitol.

Through her camera lens, Alexander loves to tell stories, especially those that often go unheard. She began her career as a journalist, writing sports news, but eventually ventured into photography.

In 2007, she produced Salt of the Red Earth, a gallery’s worth of portraits of Oklahoma’s centenarians, because she wanted to tell the stories of those who helped shape the Sooner State from its beginning.

Inspired by this project, she decided to take the opposite approach by telling the stories of the generation that now holds Oklahoma’s future.

“Like the elders, I feel like the kids are overlooked,” she said.

After a long stretch of planning for this exhibit, Alexander began her Generation journey in May. She traveled to 50 towns and counties in Oklahoma, from Boise City to America, meeting families and learning their histories.

Last Children of America, Oklahoma

“I came across descendants from the Trail of Tears, Oklahomans by choice or who were adopted, direct descendants from the Land Run and of Oklahoma City’s first mayor,” said Alexander. “They told me the stories that were handed down through their families.”

Alexander even photographed one child as he took his first breath. The Ruffin family of Oklahoma City allowed her into the hospital room for the delivery of their son, J.J.

In contrast, the oldest kid featured is Clay Fuller, who was photographed just before his 19th birthday, while taking a break from his college orientation at the University of Oklahoma.

“This exhibit is an opportunity to see people you wouldn’t ordinarily meet, and who if you did, you probably wouldn’t get to sit down and have a conversation with,” said Alexander. “They’re kids who are wet from noodling or dusty from the rodeo.”

The exhibit features 250 young Oklahomans from all walks of life. For every photograph, there is an accompanying quote from the child, or a parent or grandparent.

“They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and sometimes that really is true,” Alexander said. “My journalistic training is having the wisdom to listen and to let people tell their own stories in their own words.”


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