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"Reflections in Black: Smithsonian African American Photography"
2002-10-05 until 2002-12-01
Atlanta History Center
USA United States of America
Originated by the Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History
and Culture, Smithsonian Institution, the exhibition features a
first-of-its-kind assemblage of work by 120 photographers presented in more
than 300 images of remarkable expressive power. Images of family events,
human-rights activities and the cultural vitality of the Harlem Renaissance
are among the featured works. While serving as a chronology of the African
American experience through the years, the exhibition also explores how
photography was used as a means of creating and communicating personal and
Divided into three sections - The First 100 Years: 1842–1942, Art and
Activism, and A History Deconstructed - the exhibition documents the black
experience from slavery through the Civil Rights Era to the present day.
The First 100 Years: 1842–1942
In the early 19th and 20th centuries, African Americans were, in fact,
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 work as a starting point, this exhibition follows
the development of African American photography through its first 100 years.
The artists in this exhibition immediately understood the new medium's power
to create a comprehensive visual legacy and provide support for enlightened
Created by various forms of photographic technique as they were invented,
including daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, stereographs, composite
printing, and flash photography, the images in this exhibition form a
technical history of the medium as well as a pictorial history of African
Some of the photographers included in this section are Augustus Washington,
James Presley Ball, Daniel Freeman, Arthur P. Bedou and Florestine Perrault
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 of the exhibition, marches, meetings, rallies, and leading figures
such as Malcolm X and Thurgood Marshall are seen through the eyes of leading
photojournalists of the day.
These decades also marked a time of new artistic approaches in photography.
Some photographers moved beyond the traditional goal of objective reporting,
using the power of narrative and metaphor to expand the awareness of the
public, combating the negative stereotyping found in mainstream media
culture. Photographers sought to be "graphic historians," creating a
collective biography of African American people 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.
Included in this section of the exhibition are works by Jeanne
Moutoussamy-Ashe, Jonathan Eubanks, Jack T. Franklin, Robert Haggins, Milton
J. Hinton, Fern Logan, Moneta Sleet, Jr., Chuck Stewart, Chester Higgins,
Jr., Ernest Withers, and many others.
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. The symbolic and expressive imagery of the works produced during
this time offer a different visual paradigm.
Just as hybridized forms of modern mass communication compete to define
American society, these artists 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
Among the featured artists in this section are Albert Chong, Lynn Marshall
Linnemeir, Stephen Marc, Lorna Simpson, Carrie Mae Weems and Cynthia
Reflections in Black: Smithsonian African American Photography is curated by
Deborah Willis, former curator of exhibitions at the Anacostia Museum and
Center for African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution.
Willis is also a photographer, historian and the author of the book
Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers 1840 to the Present
(Norton, 2000). The exhibition tour is organized by Curatorial Assistance
Traveling Exhibitions (CATE), Los Angeles, California.
Adrienne A. Odom,