The elders at Ecclesia Church were expecting something tame from Jackson Potts II for their annual Stations of the Cross art display.
Instead, the 10-year-old produced a photo of his kid brother being beaten by a police officer. Jackson says it’s a modern-day interpretation of Roman soldiers beating Jesus.
It’s disturbing and could frighten children, argue church elders, who declined to display it in the church’s art gallery alongside the work of other artists depicting the remaining 14 stations (the 15th depicts Christ’s resurrection).
Jackson and his father, also a photographer, are holding out hope the Midtown church will allow the photo to hang during the city’s FotoFest, a biannual photography celebration that runs until the end of April.
Church officials have offered to let Jackson display his piece for a few hours on March 12 as a compromise.
“I just want them to display it,” Jackson said as he sipped a strawberry shake recently. Most everyone agrees Jackson is a gifted artist. He’s done several impressive artistic pieces featuring his 7-year-old brother Dietrich. He’s also shot weddings and will photograph an upcoming culinary conference.
So it was natural that Ecclesia’s Xnihilo Gallery would invite the boy to participate in its special display, for which photographers create their interpretations of Jesus’ path to crucifixion.
Jackson, who was tasked with depicting Jesus’ falling for a second time under the weight of his cross, batted around ideas for weeks.
He settled on covering Dietrich with fake blood and posing him with an adult friend wearing a law officer’s uniform.
“It’s the innocence of Jesus as a child,” Jackson said. “And a police is like a Roman guard.”
Early one morning last month he created the picture in a field. Jackson positioned everyone just right as he shot his frames.
Later he picked out his favorite photo: It shows the officer raising a club to beat a screaming Dietrich.
Though Ecclesia elders were impressed by Jackson’s work, it made them uneasy.
What if children didn’t understand the photo’s symbolism? And what if it made them fearful of police or firefighters?
“It was a tough decision, but unfortunately it’s not appropriate for this stage,” said Jeremy Wells, a church elder.
And the fact that the church has featured disturbing photos before, such as a picture of a bloodied Jesus last year?
“We talk about the crucifixion. It’s one thing for a child to understand a story of great sacrifice such as that,” Wells said. “It’s another thing for a child to understand symbolism of this sort. Especially with child abuse, and it’s not just child abuse, it’s police brutality.”
Boy nixes compromises
Leaders considered compromises such as covering the piece with a drape. But they finally decided there was no other option but to leave out Jackson’s photo.
They agreed to display it during a reception March 12, put it on the gallery’s Web site and pay Jackson some monetary compensation. They’re also inviting him to submit a more appropriate piece.
Neither Jackson nor his father deems that acceptable, although they understand the church’s reasoning.
“I’m not oblivious to the fact that a police officer beating a child might cause people concern,” said Jack Potts, Jackson’s dad. “But the offensive image is appropriate for the stations of a cross