02 Oct Jon Cartu Divulge: Filmmaker-photographer Martin Hawk chronicles Rochester
Until this summer, the coat rack in Martin Hawk’s home was a spot to set his keys and wallet and other everyday personal items. Now, it’s a place for his gas mask.
“None of us were prepared for the tear gas and the pepper spray,” Hawk says.
Hawk is a photographer embedded in what he calls the “battleground” of downtown Rochester, documenting the Black Lives Matter demonstrations that have rattled the halls of power and earned international media attention.
In some ways, the 28-year-old Hawk is like the scores of video journalists who take the streets nightly to capture the unrest. But Hawk has no media credentials, and could better be described as an artist and a concerned citizen who is, as he put it, treading the “intersectionality between arts and activism.”
“I felt compelled to be just another person with a camera, just understanding how important it is to capture all this,” Hawk says. “It’s a watershed moment not just for the world, but also for Rochester.”
Hawk is working with the State Street gallery UUU Art Collective to install an exhibit of his images and video footage in a chapter-by-chapter story of conflict called “Pressure Gradient.” He sees the work as a snapshot of a small American city at a time of transformation.
It is not just the acts of civil unrest that compel him. He is motivated by the underlying racism, whether overt or unintentional, built into longstanding systems — police departments, courthouses, City Hall — that make the country what it is.
“As a person of color, it’s interesting,” Hawk says. “A lot of my white friends, they feel activated now, and it means the world. But we get sent these videos, right? Sort of like, ‘Can you believe this happened?’ And you know, again, it’s shocking and it’s important for people to see these videos.
“But, I mean, we have to keep in mind that Black people have been watching these videos for . . .” Hawk trails off, as though calculating countless outrages. “Years.”
The videos of which he speaks are, of course, the two that have circulated the globe many times over.
The first was that of the life being squeezed out of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer on a street corner in broad daylight in May. That lit the fuse of the nation’s powder keg.
But two months earlier, Rochester police officers confronted a naked, belligerent, and distressed Daniel Prude, in the early hours of a freezing morning in March. They handcuffed him, placed a “spit hood” over his head, and then proceeded to restrain him on a wet street under light snowfall to the point of asphyxiation.
When video of that incident came to light last month, it sparked something in Hawk.
“In that instance I learned about it, boom, I ran right out of the door with my camera gear,” he says. “Unprepared, but just willing to just, having to do something. I just knew that I needed to be a witness to it.”
In the opening chapter of “Pressure Gradient,” his audience bears witness to it as well. It is cinéma vérité. Police cars glide like silent predators though the dark streets of Rochester, his camera seemingly following alongside them unseen. Demonstrators gather outside the home of Mayor Lovely Warren. The curtains remain drawn.
Pressure gradient is a weather term, a measurement of wind direction and force. Hawk applies it to his art as a measure of social change. “It’s the exploration of the shades between love, rage, and rebellion as a Black person surviving in America,” he says.
The work is a full-blown production that Hawk says he is self-financing, pouring money into a mini-production suite in his home. It could take months to cull his footage — a duration for which the fast-moving story will not wait.
The compromise was to release his work in chapters, which he says could have the effect of galvanizing support for the movement.
Yet he views the…