Like Keys of a Piano: Long Beach Artist Photographs Local Leaders, Creating Image of Unity

Like Keys in the Piano

Photo of community leaders taken by Antonio Gilbreath on Sunday, July 24 in Long Beach. 

Like keys of a piano, each different in tone but vital to the final composition, nearly a dozen black and white Long Beach community leaders lined up on a recent Sunday in the East Village to help a local artist manifest a dream to create a positive photo amid negative images in the media.

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“We see so much negative imagery that we need to start seeing positive imagery,” said artist Duke Givens, who came up with the idea for the photo in a dream. “I just wanted to put that out there right now, with what's going on in our nation.”

The photo, taken on the side wall of the now-closed Acres of Books bookstore, features a police officer, fireman, pastor and other community leaders—including Councilman Al Austin—dressed in either solid black or white shirts.

Givens said he chose the subjects because he saw them as champions in the community. All black or white men were selected to represent the two colors on a piano, who also get along with each other. They were also all bald, as a means of embodying the phrase ‘the bald head truth’ that should be replaced with the message to get along, he said. 


“In this day and age, we need to be looking at our commonalities as people and as human beings, as opposed to our differences,” said Austin about the artist’s project. “I think that's part of what the message is, what he's trying to convey. Together, as men, we can create music, and we’re all on the same page, so that's really what it's all about, and I support that.”

DW Ferrell, co-founder of MADE in Long Beach, said Givens’ long history of being able to use the camera to capture hope is what prompted him to immediately jump on board with the project.

“There's a lot of angst right now and innocent people are dying, and news outlets are often quick to show the worst of it,” Ferrell said in an email. “But there are some who are working to contrast fear with hope, and answer hate with love. That's what Givens' work embodies.”

Despite being tied down by multiple other projects, Givens said he hopes the photo is the beginning of a series that will eventually feature leaders in the community of different ethnicities.

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