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Cleveland artist Amber N. Ford on photography, grief and moCa residency

Amber N. Ford on a portrait shoot in Cleveland.
Amber N. Ford on a portrait shoot in Cleveland.

Amber N. Ford’s photos can be seen everywhere from national publications to area museums. As much as the Cleveland artist loves photography, she’s looking to widen her art practice with her residency at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland (moCa) while drawing attention to grieving.

On the second floor of moCa, hundreds of brightly colored Post-it notes cover the walls. In response to a handful of prompts from Ford about grief and grieving, visitors wrote down the names of lost loved ones, cherished memories and more.

“One of the prompts is, ‘How are you actively keeping your memories alive?’” Ford said, adding that “talking about loss shouldn't be a taboo subject.”

People added notes bearing names and drawings to the walls at moCa as part of Amber N. Ford's invitation for visitors to reflect on grief, loss and memories. [Carrie Wise / Ideastream Public Media]

Inspired by the many lives lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the difficulties mourning loved ones over the past two years, Ford asks people to stop and reflect.

“I think that grief unites us because it's something that, whether we want to go there or not, we all we all go through it, right? We all experience it in some type of degree, one way or another,” Ford said. “And in that thought, we can also potentially help each other within that process as well,” Ford said.

By creating this space for shared reflections, Ford is both responding to the times as well as her desire to experiment in other mediums. She plans to further explore grief in a future moCa installation featuring audio and objects.

“I'm interested as I continue to develop with my artistic practice to be more considered as a contemporary artist or conceptual artist than just a photographer, because I want to be able to choose whatever medium makes the most sense for the concept and idea that I have versus trying to make photography always fit,” she said.

A love for photography led Ford to study at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Since graduating in 2016, her photographs have been exhibited around the region. For instance, her up-close images of Black hair are on view as part of the exhibit “Textures: The History and Art of Black Hair” at the Kent State University Museum. She also captured portraits of Cleveland Museum of Art curators for last year’s “Stories from Storage” exhibit.

Feeders, 2019, Amber N. Ford, is on view at Kent State University Museum. [Amber N. Ford /  Kent State University Museum]

I just never imagined as a student that now six years after undergrad, that I would be working with some of the people and some of the institutions that I'm working with now, which is really exciting and really interesting,” Ford said.

Beyond Northeast Ohio, people can see Ford’s photos in national publications like Vox, The New York Times and The Washington Post.

“I really enjoy that because every assignment is different,” she said. “I get to meet new people, go to new places, and I really enjoy that aspect of picture taking.”

One of the portraits Amber N. Ford took for the exhibit "Missing History of Massillon: Unheard African American Stories." [Amber N. Ford]

Ford is also bringing her creativity to an upcoming exhibit with the Massillon Museum called "Missing History of Massillon: Unheard African American Stories." Her portraits will pair with stories and artifacts Black residents in the Massillon community shared with the museum. While that exhibit is separate from her work at moCa, both projects recognize the importance of sharing memories.

“When we don’t actively keep those memories alive, when it comes to the next generation, it’s like you can’t really pass those things on,” she said. “I don’t really know many generations before mine, which is not uncommon within the African American community.”

Ford is trying to change that personally and with her work, inviting others to do the same.

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