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Photographer M.J. Alexander featuring Oklahoma children in new coffee table book "Portrait of a Generation"

by Brandy McDonnell Published: June 9, 2010
In this 2007 file photo, photographer M.J. Alexander, left, looks with Ida Lewis Turner at Turner's portrait in Alexander's "Salt of the Red Earth" book, at the grand opening of the "Salt of the Red Earth" centenarian photo exhibit at the the Gaylord-Pickens Oklahoma Heritage Center in Oklahoma City. Alexander now is photographing 100 state children for her new book "Portrait of a Generation - The Children of Oklahoma: Sons and Daughters of the Red Earth." (Photo by Matt Strasen/The Oklahoma Archives)
In this 2007 file photo, photographer M.J. Alexander, left, looks with Ida Lewis Turner at Turner's portrait in Alexander's "Salt of the Red Earth" book, at the grand opening of the "Salt of the Red Earth" centenarian photo exhibit at the the Gaylord-Pickens Oklahoma Heritage Center in Oklahoma City. Alexander now is photographing 100 state children for her new book "Portrait of a Generation - The Children of Oklahoma: Sons and Daughters of the Red Earth." (Photo by Matt Strasen/The Oklahoma Archives)

From Wednesday’s Life section of The Oklahoman.

Photographer seeks state kids to feature in coffee table book

M.J. Alexander spent last Friday morning crawling around a horse pasture in Choctaw.

The Oklahoma City photographer wasn’t afraid to get down low — and dirty if necessary — to shoot Taylor Crowe, 14, and his horse Bud against towering old oak trees and the vast Oklahoma sky.

“I was … trying to avoid the horse leavings,” she said with a laugh. “It’s going to be a fun summer.”

Alexander plans to spend the season photographing children for a limited-edition coffee table book, “Portrait of a Generation — The Children of Oklahoma: Sons and Daughters of the Red Earth.”

“I gravitate toward (portraits),” she said. “I’m drawn that way. I’ve done other things, but I keep going back to the people.”

The new book is Alexander’s follow-up to her acclaimed “Salt of the Red Earth” project, a book and exhibit that featured state centenarians during Oklahoma’s centennial year.

“We’re 10 years into the next millennium, and it’s been three years since that book came out, which is hard to believe,” she said. “Several of the people I talked to before were actually born in the 19th century, so a lot of these people I’m talking to now were born in the 21st century.”

She plans to drive from Boise City to Broken Bow as she captures 100 Oklahoma children from newborns to 17-year-olds. She is looking for extraordinary youngsters with stories to tell, from cancer survivors and pow-wow dancers to aspiring poets and math whizzes.

“My goal is to get sort of a kaleidoscope of kids from all over the state — different ages, different backgrounds, different experiences, different philosophies of life,” she said. “They don’t all have to be people who scored 1600 on the SAT or have a particular political outlook or all be Eagle Scouts or anything. It’s just to reflect the diversity of Oklahoma.”

As she searches for youths to feature, her wish list of kids includes a child born on the Oklahoma Centennial, Nov. 16, 2007; an Oklahoman born in the state on New Year’s Day 2000; and a youngster who is part of a five-generation Oklahoma family. She also hopes to find a youngster to depict on land that was claimed by ancestors in Land Run and remains in the family and an American-Indian youth photographed on property that has stayed in the family since the dispersal of tribal lands through the Dawes Act of 1906.

“To tie it in with the older generation, I would love to find a child who was born in Oklahoma who has a direct ancestor who is a centenarian also living in Oklahoma and then to interview them both and do a portrait of the two of them together,” she said. “The children are really products of the land and of the people who came before them.”

Her “Salt of the Red Earth” portraits featured the weathered and wizened faces and hands of centenarians against matching black backdrops. The new photos will have a consistent look but will all be environmental portraits, showing the youngsters against their part of the Oklahoma landscape.

“The idea is to show the state and show the kids who will be coming up and taking care of the state in the decades to come,” said Alexander, who has lived in the state for 12 years. “It will be a snapshot of where we are now.”

The fine art book will devote two pages to each child, featuring the portrait with a quote from the youngster. For those too young to be interviewed, comments will be taken from a key adult in their lives.

Co-sponsored by Southwestern Publishing, “Portrait of a Generation” also will serve as a fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Oklahoma County. Production costs will be underwritten by corporate and individual sponsorships of $250 for each featured child. Those selected will be matched with an existing sponsor or provide one of their own.

“With the centennial, there was a lot of looking back. There was a lot of retrospective there and rightfully so. And the greatest thing about that project for me was it brought attention to a lot of people who had done things great and small … and all the sudden people are going up to them with a book asking for their autographs,” she said. “But now we’re looking forward … and talking about where Oklahoma is going, and the people who are going to be taking Oklahoma there are these kids.”

In the case of Taylor Crowe, Alexander said the teen’s mother suggested him for the book.

“He’s fabulous and very, very thoughtful, but as it happens, he has autism,” she said. “One of his goals in life is to be a great husband and father. He’s just very thoughtful and very gentle, and sometimes society doesn’t really recognize or celebrate those qualities, especially in boys. So it’s interesting to find someone as well rounded and unexpected as him.”

“Portrait of a Generation”

Oklahoma City photographer M.J. Alexander is looking for extraordinary Oklahoma children from newborn to 17 years old from across the state to feature in her new fine art book “Portrait of a Generation — The Children of Oklahoma: Sons and Daughters of the Red Earth.” To nominate a child for inclusion, send his or her name, hometown, brief description and optional photo to oklakids@gmail.com by June 20.

For more information, contact Elizabeth Meares at Southwestern Publishing at 842-2266, editor@southwesternpub.com or www.southwesternpub.com.

-BAM

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by Brandy McDonnell
Entertainment Reporter
Brandy McDonnell, also known by her initials BAM, writes stories and reviews on movies, music, the arts and other aspects of entertainment. She is NewsOK’s top blogger: Her 4-year-old entertainment news blog, BAM’s Blog, has notched more than 1...
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