When spending time with photographer Wyatt Kenneth Coleman's work, it's not uncommon to be filled with a sudden and unmistakable warmth that isn't unlike the feeling you might get from hugging an old friend.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that the man behind the lens is just as warm and friendly as his pictures -- a trait he maintains has helped him get the best of his subjects, his camera and himself through his 50 years as a freelance photojournalist and artist.
Coleman's work is currently being feature in the Lancaster Museum of Art & History's newest exhibit, It Takes a Village. His section of the exhibit, which is entitles Beyond the Village, is located on the second floor, in the south gallery, and includes dozens of pieces that document the plight of Civil Rights activists and the people who aim to create positive, peaceful change in the world through kindness, loving and understanding.
"I don't treat (my subjects) any differently than I would treat someone in my family," the Lancaster resident said during a recent phone interview. "You become part of them and they accept you. You become one with them and then they don't even notice the camera.
"The camera is just an extension of my personality," he added with one of his infectious laughs.
As a teenager, Coleman was inspired to start taking photos after his brother, Eugene McMiller, a Brooks Institute alum who graduated with honors, began working in the field.
"He had a studio and I was fascinated by some of the assignments and work he was doing," Coleman said of his late brother's passion that became his own. "I didn't know anything about photography, but it looked exciting to me! I decided that I was going to do that same thing, in other words: to follow in his footsteps."
While serving overseas during the Vietnam War, from 1964-'66, Coleman began studying photography at the United States Air Force Photography School. It was there he gained the skills that would follow him throughout his military career and various artistic and professional endeavors (he has been features in publications like 3M, Ebony and Jet, among others).
Coleman's work was featured in an exhibit last year at MOAH:CEDAR which focused on his photography of Civil Rights activists, but for this new exhibit, he attempts to show the many ways of life that human beings build for themselves in a modern America.
"If we treat each other as half-way decent, we can all get along and see one another as human beings," he said.
Coleman, 74, takes his photos with an old Nikon and occasionally uses a Hasselblad -- equipment he likens to an "old friend."
He largely shoots in the monochromatic majesty of black and white, but will also be showcasing some color photography in this exhibit.
"I don't actually like doing color to be honest!" he said with a laugh. "With black and white, you have to look at it and really see -- and hopefully think about -- what I was trying to say with that image. But with color, it can sometimes overpower whatever it is I'm trying to say or do."
He made the accommodation in an effort to show how various cultures use colors in their everyday lives.
"It's probably the most color work I've ever shown," he admitted.
One of that show's most mesmerizing pieces is called We Are More Alike than Unalike (a title he culled from the writings of Maya Angelou), which Coleman completed in a 1994 collaboration with friend Jason Chang.
"It was done after the riots in Los Angeles," he said. "What we were trying to show with that was: if you look on one side, you see an African American family. If you look from the other end, you see the Korean family. If you look in the middle, you see them standing together. That's kind of what the show is about in a way."
Through his are and humanitarian practices, Coleman has made frequent attempts at bettering the community surrounding him. He has documented the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and even established a collaborating with Coretta Scott King which was active until her death in 2006.
Since settling in Lancaster with his wife Linda in 2001, Coleman has engaged with the Antelope Valley community to do just that. He was recently recognized for his volunteer work at Elm Ave. Community Garden by Assemblyman Tom Lackey and received an award from the Lancaster City Council for his continued contributions to the community.
"I try to show that people are just human beings We don't have to go through all the nastiness that is sometimes exhibited," he said. "I've done a lot of things in my life. I'm very blessed, very fortunate."
Coleman will lead a special talk and tour of his work at 2 PM on Sunday, February 18 at MOAH. A natural people-person, Coleman is excited to speak with others about their experience with his work.
"MOAH being there and allowing me to show this work and what I was trying to say ... has been very important to me," he said. "I'm looking forward to it! There isn't anything I won't answer if anyone wants to know how I did this or that. I just try to make life better for everyone that comes in contact with my image."
For those who make it out to the exhibit, there isn't any doubt he'll succeed.
In addition to Wyatt Kenneth Coleman's photo journalistic work, It Takes a Village also features the work of five other artists, all of whom will be holding their own upcoming community engagement sessions.
Lisa Bartleson: Kindred
When: 2 PM Saturday, February 17
Where: East Gallery
What: Referencing the Japanese tradition kintsugi (the art of repairing broken pottery), Bartleson uses resin and ceramics to create expansive works in two and three dimensions. This large-scale installation is composed of over 200 porcelain houses to convey a community in the process of shared healing. Enhancing the experience is the repeated aural drone of heartbeats ( her own, and a baby's still in the womb) to remind onlookers of the universal, shared experience of life.
Scott Yoell: Tsunami
When: 2 PM Saturday, February 24
Where: Moore Family Trust Gallery
What: A recent fascination with trinkets has lead this traditional and electronic media artists to create Tsunami, a striking collection of three thousand four-inch-tall figures formed in an imposed wave of nostalgia and community. Guest are encouraged to look closely: you'll notice superficial differences and imperfections that are a by-product of being cast from the same mold.
Richard S. Chow: Distant Memories
When: 1 PM Sunday, February 25
Where: North Gallery
What: The Hong Kong native, Richard S. Chow, imagines a childhood under the sunshine of Southern California in this series of black and white documentarian and conceptual images. Human interest colors these dozens of black and white photos that feature shots of the beach, the ocean, the city -- memories he never lives as a young boy and now imagines in his adopted home.
Memory & Identity: The Marvelous Art of Betye, Lezley and Alison Saar
When: 12 PM Sunday, March 25
Where: Main Gallery
What: Betye, Lezley and Alison Saar explore their cultural history with a collection of striking mixed-media pieces. From sculptures and high-concept installations to paintings and photography, this family of creatives mix "low" and "high" art forms, they create something wholly new and deeply invigorating. Every objects tells a story.
Jane Szabo: Family Matters
When: 2 PM Sunday, March 25
Where: Wells Fargo Gallery
What: Photographed against crushing black backgrounds, Szabo's pictures evoke a feeling of home, displacement and sentimentality. Using fabrication and household materials, she explores complicated family dynamics in tableaus that redefine what it means to be a daughter, mother and caretaker.