Jackson State’s Howard is picture perfect


The Mississippi River Bridge is one of two photos Howard submitted to the 2016 Mississippi Invitational. (Gerard Howard/JSU)

The Mississippi River Bridge is one of two photos Howard submitted to the 2016 Mississippi Invitational. (Gerard Howard/JSU)


Gerard Howard hated art. As a left-handed child, scissor and construction paper arts and crafts projects were a problem for him.

“I am an unlikely artist. I kind of just stumbled into art. I grew up hating art. Maybe not hating art per say, but it was never my forte,” says Howard, the professional webmaster for Jackson State’s Division of Information Technology.

There has to be some irony in the fact that Howard is now one of 18 artists selected, out of 115, for inclusion in the 2016 Mississippi Invitational exhibition at the Mississippi Museum of Art in downtown Jackson.

According to the museum website, the Mississippi Invitational began in 1997 and “surveys recent developments by contemporary visual artists living and working across the state, and includes work in diverse media.”

Upon learning his photos would be on display for all to see, Howard says, “I was blessed to really have an opportunity to be a part of it.”

And then, almost as if he is scrutinizing his emotions for the first time, he adds: “It felt good. It felt good. It felt good.”

In addition to being a webmaster, Howard is a musician, radio host, videographer and a photographer. His documentary work of HBCU marching band culture is part of a video exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture that opened in the Fall of 2016.

“My primary inspiration for the many hats has been Gordon Parks,” says the New Orleans native.

Howard is referring to Gordon Roger Parks an American photographer, musician, writer and film director.

Parks was also the first black photographer for Life magazine, a co-founder of Essence magazine and the director of the movie “Shaft,” among other notable achievements.

During middle school, the first book Howard says he finished reading was “The Learning Tree” authored by Parks.

“So, I always remembered the book and the name Gordon Parks,” he says.

Once in college, Howard recalls attending an exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

“They were showing the work of this photographer whose name sounded familiar, and that photographer was none other than Gordon Parks,” says Howard in his “Big Easy” accent.

“This guy is relevant in all these areas. In every field that he’s in, he’s been noted and very relevant,” he states. “I wanted to have that same type of diversity and relevance in various areas.”

Howard is also a musician in The Southern Komfort Brass Band. (Special to JSU)

Howard is also a musician in The Southern Komfort Brass Band. (Special to JSU)

Howard explains that his encounter with photography began as a freshman at Jackson State where he played the bass drum in the university’s beloved marching band, the Sonic Boom of the South. He would later quit music after being offered a full academic scholarship at the start of his sophomore year.

Nonetheless, Howard continued working closely with the band, creating the “Sonic Boom of the South” website that launched in spring 1997.

“I would go to games, and I would see a lot of guys covering the game, but they were covering the sport and then they might cover the band or the dancer or something,” he articulates.

“When I started the website, I didn’t want to use anyone else’s pictures, so I got a digital camera and started taking these pictures,” he says. “I didn’t want to get sued by using anybody else’s work, so I just had to shoot myself.”

The self-taught photographer would not use an image unless it reflected one of his two quality standards: good enough for television or reminiscent of a picture he had seen in a formal shop while an adolescent in New Orleans.

“At the time, it was the only shot of a college marching band that we’d seen,” he recalls of the formal shop photo. “My shots had to be good as that shot or something you see on ESPN.”

Yet, the subject of Howard’s photos exhibited in the invitational is of landscapes and not vibrant depictions of band members in various states of musicianship.

Recalling the moments that led his lens to the great outdoors, Howard says he would routinely pass by the same spot every day driving home from work. “It was in December. The leaves were turning red, and the five o’clock light was shining through the trees.”

But, for the multi-faceted Howard, it was about much more than just a pretty picture.

The guy who takes a chance, who walks the line between the known and unknown, who is unafraid of failure, will succeed. ~ Gordon Parks

“When I put my camera up towards the leaves, it wasn’t as much about shooting the leaves as much as it was exploring what I saw through the lens. And that to me was a fascinating thing,” he says in a mystified tone. “And that became my foray into nature and landscape work.”

Over the past few years, an associate would repeatedly urge the talented Howard to submit his works to the invitational. After finally succumbing to the suggestion, Howard is more than pleased with the outcome.

However, he explains that it takes a particular type of belief to pursue one’s goals and dreams. The photog says, “If you’re praying and asking for something, you have to believe you can have it. Or, at least you have to open yourself up to the expectation or the possibility. It has to be possible in your mind rather than impossible.”

The 2016 Mississippi Invitational at the Mississippi Museum of Art ends March 12, 2017.

Cost is $5 for adults; $4 for seniors; and $3 for students. Admission is for free museum members and children under age 5.