Los Angeles, CA — In two decades of marriage, it is inevitable that a couple learn something from one another.

What Deborah Charles learned from her late husband, Roland, was nothing physical, yet it had a profound, almost spiritual, impact on her life.

“During the 21 years we were married, I saw him live his passion everyday. He loved what he did,” said Charles, of her husband, a noted photographer who traveled the world photographing people and was co-owner of probably the first African American owned gallery to focus on exhibiting the works of Black photographers.

Charles wanted to find that same sense of joy and fulfillment, she saw in her husband.

Seven years after her spouse died of a heart attack, the Los Angeles corporate worker-turned-literary-agent is finally finding her passion, and it has been with the “help” of her husband.

“As I have been involved in keeping Roland’s legacy alive (she has done nine exhibits since his death), I’ve found it has become my passion,” explained Charles who on June 12 unveiled the next phase in her goal of exposing her husband’s vast body of photography.

The project–Haiku in My Neighborhood–is a collaboration between Charles, good family friend and original Watts Prophet Dee Dee McNeil and Eric Hanks, owner of what may be the oldest African American art gallery in Los Angeles County.

A combination photographic exhibit and book release party, the project features Roland’s photography coupled with haiku poetry by McNeil.

“Dee Dee approached me, and said she had always wanted to do a book project with Roland but they never got around to it,” recalled Charles. “She had this haiku poetry she had written years ago, and thought it would be nice to have the poetry matched with some of his photos. She asked if she could send the manuscript. I said sure.”

When Charles began to read the poems, she immediately started to visualize photographs in her husband’s collection that would match the words, then she started to gather and match the images and text, and was amazed at how well they fit.

“You would have thought the haiku was written for the photos or the photos were taken, and the haiku written to match,” Charles remembers.

She and McNeil got together and started to shop the book idea around. There were no takers.

“Dee Dee said, ‘why don’t you self-publish,’ and I said no, I don’t want to do that. We just have to be patient,” reflected Charles, who had discovered in her make-over into a literary agent that patience was paramount in the book world.

But it didn’t hurt to explore other approaches, which led the pair to Hanks, owner of Santa Monica-based M. Hanks Gallery, who had previously featured an exhibit of Roland’s photography.

“I really believed in it,” said Hanks of the book project. “It seemed like a wonderful thing to do.
The photographs were great, and the poems fit perfectly,” added the gallery owner.

“I had heard about haiku, but was not that familiar with it. But after reading the poems and getting an explanation from the poet, I was really attracted.”

While he had never produced a book before, Hanks was knowledgeable about creating catalogs for art exhibits and had done so for about 21 years.

Working with Charles and McNeil, his gallery has published the 104-page book that features 50 photographs and matching haiku poems. The exhibit highlights a small selection of photos from the book.

In addition to the exhibit, which is on view through Aug. 15 at M. Hanks, 3008 Main St., Santa Monica, the gallery will hold a book signing June 28.

When Charles first saw the finished book, she was overcome by her own passion and emotion.
“When I saw it, I was so joyful. I couldn’t even look at it. I had to bring it home and wait before I could open a page of the book. (When I did), I just got chill bumps. It’s been such a wonderful project, and I’ve felt like I had Roland’s spirit watching over me every step of the way,” recalled Charles.