Picturing Us: African American Identity in Photography

Deborah Willis, Editor New Press $23 (209p) ISBN 978-1-56584-107-9
In 18 stimulating essays, black writers, scholars and critics reflect on individual photographs-often a family snapshot-to address questions of black identity (but not a black photographic aesthetic). If a portrait of his mother conjures up lost dreams for Edward P. Jones, a picture of her T-shirted father reminds bell hooks how her sisters differ in their view of him; and a photo of a many-hued family suggests to Christian Walker the politics of skin color. Some photos dredge up history: in an 1850s daguerreotype of a nude woman, Carla Williams finds a stimulus for questions of black sexuality; Claudine Brown finds implications for the present in a dignified 1901 mug shot. Others represent the essayists' view of politics: to Clarissa Sligh, newspaper photos from 1956 recall white demonization of integration; to Angela Davis, current popularity of her iconic afro suggests a triumph of fashion over politics. Willis, collections coordinator of the National African-American Museum Project of the Smithsonian Institution, has begun a worthy dialogue on an under-analyzed aspect of black history. Photos. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 10/31/1994
Release date: 11/01/1994
Paperback - 209 pages - 978-1-56584-106-2
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