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"Reflections in Black: Smithsonian African American Photography"
2001-07-01 until 2001-09-02
Detroit Institute of Art
This groundbreaking assemblage of over 300 images shows
how African Americans have embraced photography as a means of creating and communicating
personal and social dignity. Photographs of family events, human-rights activities, and the
cultural vitality of the Harlem Renaissance are among the works on view. Originated by the
Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution,
Reflections in Black is divided into three sections - The First 100 Years: 1842-1942; Art and
Activism; and A History Deconstructed.
The First 100 Years: 1842-1942 In the early 19th and 20th centuries, African Americans were
pioneers in the medium. Jules Lion (1810-1866) began producing daguerreotypes in New
Orleans in 1840, just one year after the invention of the process. Using Lion's works as a starting
point, the exhibition follows the development of African American Photography through its first
100 years. The artists immediately understood the new medium's power to create a
comprehensive visual legacy and provide support for enlightened social philosophies. Some
artists included in this section are Augustus Washington, James Presley Ball, and Daniel
Art and Activism African American photographers were instrumental in motivating cultural
change and defining the significance of the beginnings of the Civil Rights and Black Power
movements in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In this section, marches, meetings, rallies and
leading figures such as Malcolm X and Thurgood Marshall are seen through the eyes of leading
photojournalists of the day. Photographers sought to create a collective biography of African
Americans that would empower them in their struggle for civil rights, while at the same time
providing evidence of the diversity of their individual histories, values and goals. Artists such as
Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, Jonathan Eubanks and Jack T. Franklin are featured in this section.
A History Deconstructed During the past two decades African American artists have used their
work to help tear down and redefine rigid concepts of race and gender. These artists redefine
the photographic image by looking at it as a document and metaphor, often deconstructing and
reconstructing their personal histories and public personas. They use strategies such as
juxtaposing text with image and mixing fact with fantasy to challenge the viewer's assumptions
about artistic authority and authenticity. By questioning received wisdom and commonly held
beliefs about representation in general, they initiate reconsideration, allowing new questions to
be asked and new values to be formed. This section features Albert Chong, Lynn Marshall
Linnemeir, Lorna Simpson and Carrie Mae Weems, among others.
The Smithsonian curator of Reflections in Black is Deborah Willis, historian, photographer and
author of the book Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers 1840 to the Present.
Portrait of John Coltrane (1926-1967),
and Soprano Saxophonist and
Alice Coltrane (b.1937),
Pianist, Organist, Harpist, and Composer, 1966