Black pastor and photographer delivers stirring pro-vaccination message

Nolan McCants’ ‘Stillness’ video is part of the Arts Alliance Illinois’ ‘Vax to Get Back’ project

A Black pastor in Plainfield who’s a strong advocate for the COVID-19 vaccine is using art to underscore his message.

McCants, a Naperville photographer and pastor at Harvest Church Plainfield, was one of four artists selected by the Arts DuPage to participate in Arts Alliance Illinois’ “Vax to Get Back” pro-vaccination project.

“Artists in 24 regions across Illinois received a grant from AAI to create influential pieces, ranging from street concerts and video essays to poster campaigns and public art,” the DuPage Foundation website said.

In an email, McCants said his submission, a video, will be used as a public service announcement before some movies at area Classic Cinemas.

“My video preceded the After Hours Film society’s screening of ‘The Spark Brothers’ in Downer’s Grove and was applauded by the audience of 200,” McCants said.

McCants was happy to participate in the project because he already had material. So on a cold day in March 2020, McCants headed up to Chicago with his camera to take photos, which he’s currently displaying at the Nolan Gallery in Chicago.

Now McCants, who’s photographed places such as Nigeria, said he normally doesn’t shoot locally because he’s “too close” to the subject matter. But McCants also said the start of the pandemic also fascinated him, at least from an artistic perspective.

“I had to go into the city and look around,” McCants said. “To see the Chicago streets empty was amazing. It was also very eerie...and I just kind of wanted to spend the day in the city shooting various spaces I was familiar with, the spaces you wanted to avoid because of the amount of traffic. Well, it was definitely empty. I could park my car in the middle of the street and have no issues. It was amazing.”

McCants said he wanted to capture that day for “the historical value of it.”

“I wanted to be able to have images that we could look back at in 10, 20 years and say, ‘I remember it,’” McCants said. “The thing I like about photography is that it freezes a moment. It allows you time to think and to be contemplative.”

McCants then selected some of these photos, crafted the narrative and assembled it into a video essay format that he said, “gets in touch with what we’ve all experienced collectively.” He said the video is free from “any political landscapes” and removed from “any tribal spaces.”

Rather, “Stillness” speaks to core of what people are encountering as they navigate the pandemic, as well as McCants’ strong views on the COVID-19 vaccine, he said.

“My wife and I were among the first in our congregation to be vaccinated and we celebrated that out loud,” McCants said. “And so, it was just an opportunity to take to another level on what we had already preached and participated in on a personal level,” McCants said.

McCants said people have messaged him through social media praising the video and, more importantly to him, letting him know his video inspired them to consider getting the COVID vaccine.

And that’s really the message McCants wanted to deliver. Get vaccinated, he stressed.

“Get vaccinated, so we can be healthy and get back to some normalcy and maybe a better normalcy,” McCants said. “Because we won’t go back to the way it was. A lot of things have changed.”

McCants’ “Stillness” exhibit is available at the Nolan Gallery, 1029 W. 35th St., fourth floor, Chicago. To view McCants’ video “Stillness Arts & Vaccination Photo Essay,” visit Nolan W. McCants on YouTube.

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Denise  Unland

Denise M. Baran-Unland

Denise M. Baran-Unland is the features editor for The Herald-News in Joliet. She covers a variety of human interest stories. She also writes the long-time weekly tribute feature “An Extraordinary Life about local people who have died. She studied journalism at the College of St. Francis in Joliet, now the University of St. Francis.