At last Thursday night's opening reception, the red rose in his jacket lapel provided a final elegant touch and recalled a story that Richard Breland sometimes tells about his 2010 trip to Washington, D.C., with Syracuse United Neighbors (SUN). There to protest Wall Street's financial practices, many of the SUN contingent carried signs outside the bankers' gathering. But Breland had gone "undercover," breezing easily into the sanctum past nervous security guards and passing himself off as one of the elite mega-wealthy. Of course he'd taken his camera along on that trip too, so there's a photo from SUN's D.C. protest in the exhibition, one of 49 images that comprise The Richard Breland Photography Collection now on view in the second floor Panasci Lounge at Syracuse University's Schine Student Center. Despite the cold damp, the trudge up the hill, and several other arts events that evening, almost 90 people turned out.
The earliest photo I saw among them taken by Breland himself is dated circa 1940, seventy years earlier than SUN's Wall Street protest. Then, a few were made by his sister Eleanor Scott, and there are some even older ones that have come down through his family. They go back to the 1920s, when his grandmother, Minnie Irons, left Bamburg, S.C., bound for Syracuse and part of the first wave of the Great Migration, when millions of Black southerners began moving north after World War I. Curator Joan Bryant's detailed wall text tells us that the Breland family, after stops in York, PA, and Brooklyn, made it to Syracuse and a house on East Adams Street in the old 15th Ward, when he was just two. When Breland was nine years old - and there's a photo of Richard in the fourth grade at Washington-Irving School on Madison Street - he "spent months saving all the money he could earn to buy a Brownie camera."