View Full Version : African American Large Format Photographers

Jim Billlups
10-Mar-2002, 11:26
Does anyone know of contemporary African American large format photographers? I have a deep appreciation for the originality, sensitivity, expression and emot ion often conveyed by African American?s, regardless of their art form.

Thank you,

Sandy Sorlien
10-Mar-2002, 12:00
Ron Tarver, Philadelphia. He's a staff photographer for the Phila Inquirer, but his personal work is 4x5, uses Type 55 Polaroid film and a printing technique which softens the image. He received a 2001 Pew Fellowship. He has some lovely pictures of Havana, and urban landscapes around Philadelphia.

I think Don Camp (also Philadelphia) uses LF for his huge portraits, but I'm not entirely sure.

Fred De Van
10-Mar-2002, 13:43
There is a photographer who sat beside Ansel Adams of the Board of the Ziff Davis Foundation, who is just as comfortable with an 8x10 Sinar as he is with a Leica, Linhof or Hasselblad. Who is involved in the building of of a LF camera, and whose whose published work, especially in the early part of his career, is mostly done with large format.

He will remain nameless because he rejects being identified as a Large format or Afro American, photographer, since both are incidental to his work. At one point he did accept an award from Langston Hughes,(see: "Sweet Flypaper of Life" words by Langston Hughes, photographs by Roy De Carrava), and that resulted in his being identified as a prolific Afro American Photographer. The huge numbers of published images were a result of the many TV guide covers he had done. None of these photgraphs were remotely related to the reason he was offered the award, so he somewhat ungratiously, declined the award as being based on the absurd and that TV guide was not a measure of anything he wished to be known for....

10-Mar-2002, 13:55
>>> "I have a deep appreciation for the originality, sensitivity, expression and emotion often conveyed by African American?s, regardless of their art form." <<<

How about: "I have a deep appreciation for the originality, sensitivity, expression and emotion often conveyed by Artists, regardless of the melanin level in their skin."

Best wishes,

Martin Loft
10-Mar-2002, 14:09
Try checking out this site. They have a very interesting time line outlining the history of photography from a Black perspective. African American Photographers' Association http://www.aapguild.org/

BTW if anyone is interested in Native American LF photographers I could supply you with a short list. I Mohawk so thats one.

Amadou Diallo
10-Mar-2002, 14:29
I happen to be one. My web site is www.diallophotography.com

Amadou Diallo

Ellis Vener
10-Mar-2002, 18:20
I know of one or two in the Houston area.

Ellis Vener
10-Mar-2002, 21:28
One of whom works closely with John Biggars (sp?) the wonderful & powerful muralist

Jim Billlups
10-Mar-2002, 23:57
I just wanted to say thank you to Sandy for the information on Ron Tarver. His images of Havana are great! Fred thanks to you for the fascinating information on the gentleman who was on the Ziff Davis Foundation board. Martin thanks for bringing the African American Photographers' Association to my attention, I will be checking out their site. Amadou my man! I was able to take a quick peek at your site today and will be back soon. Nice work and nice site! I'll shoot you an email... Ellis, thank you sir for bringing John Biggars to my attention, I'll see if I can find a site that has some of his work.


Sandy Sorlien
11-Mar-2002, 13:09
Oh cut it out with the "we're all the same" refrain. I didn't see anyone complaining when someone asked for examples of female LF photographers. Don't judge Jim for asking the question; you don't know why he asked it, other than he would like to see some work by black photographers. I think we should all like to see MORE work by MORE black and female photographers and any other "group" that has been severely under-represented for the first 150 years of photography.

I think it is very worthwhile to consider and examine the possibility that sometimes different cultures and different historical experiences and different hormones, for that matter, might produce different work from the work of the "group" that has always been in power in this country.

If that turns out not to be the case for any given individual, you will still have seen some work from someone you may not have known about before, because they were not part of the "system."

Donald Brewster
11-Mar-2002, 14:42
I don't know what format he worked in, but you can't overlook Gordon Parks. The show that has been floating around the country over the past few years was astounding.

David L.
11-Mar-2002, 16:22
Jim, There was a exhibit about a year ago at the Brooklyn Musuem of Art- "Committed to the Image: Contempoary Black Photographers". I'm not sure if any of the artists featured worked exclusively in Large Format but I'm sure you could probably get some information from the book that accompanied the show (same name as the show).

Fred De Van
11-Mar-2002, 21:15

In Many ways you are very correct, and your point was the reason for my prior post. Jim's post raises a thorny issue for the Photographer who happens to be Black, as opposed the the Photographer whose focus is on a stereotyped (unfortunately) segment of the Black experiance. You have, we all have, seen quite a bit of work by Black Photographers yet there were no reasons to identify them as Black, they are simply and purely, Photographers. To have done so would have been rediculous, since the content made that moot. It would be emminently crazy to identify a bucolic, snow scene, of a red barn in Vermont made by a Black Photographer as having anything to do with skin color. Likewise, A portrait of the King of Spain, yet I can assure you both have been done by Photographers of color.

Once you say that you cannot ignore Gordon Parks, you create the real cause than many very prolific photographers do not wish to be identified as a Black Photographer. It closes doors. As Donald's post points out, Gordon is know for his photography hyphenated by his color. When the next equally hyphenated person comes along he finds the door to access a bit less open, because there had been a Gordon Parks show a few months ago. Been there, done that.

While is wonderful to be recognised, for the artist/generalist photographer, the lable and the hyphen can and does work against you. For the Photographer who's work is derived from an immersion in a sub culture, the hyphen is more than valid. There are far more hard working, productive, creative, professional Photographers and Artists (who may or may not be commercial in any way) who happen to have dark skin producing images that you see everyday, than will ever be widely known. The work is what matters. The photo editor of Horticulture Magazine was a Black Female. In what way could this fact have effected the content of what you saw? Her/my Friend, Mel Scott was the Picture Editor at Life Magazine, and neither had any exposure to the world that Gordon Parks knew and photographed.

It is not a matter of "we are all the same", it is a matter, that about 85% of the time etnicity, is not a valid distinction. For the other 15%, I am on your side. Do we call Dorthia Lange a "poor Photographer", she personally was far from poor. You would have been struck hard on the head, had you ever called Margaret Burke White, a "White Female shooter of big Dams and little Indians". Do we call Walker Evans a caustic-surly-drunk-artist? (When you did he smiled and growled, simultaniously) Roy De Carrava, who did that wonderful book on a period in Harlem, also is a full Professor in NY, and was the Dirctor of Photography at one of the Time Inc Magazines. Gordon Parks on the other hand, is a Black Photographer, Black Film Director, Black Composer and Black Author, and that is how he wants it. It has made him a wealthy man. To each his own.

There are 35 million Black people in this nation, and there are 35 million ways to be Black. One size does not fit all. This entire topic is a wonderful illustration as to how this nation has continued to get it all wrong. That is also the reason your post was very right.

mark lindsey
11-Mar-2002, 21:28
Here here, Fred! I agree. If you create great work, I want to see it, if its crap I don't--what difference should it make as to what color/ sex the artist is?

Sandy Sorlien
12-Mar-2002, 09:59
Fred has some good points, especially the one that being identified black/Latino/female/whatever can be a drawback when exhibitions are scheduled. But more often these days it's an advantage, as an implicit or explicit "affirmative action of the arts" has been taking place in many institutions. I'm all for that.

I suppose there are many viewers of photography like Mark who do not care anything about the person who made the picture. I am not one of them. I believe that if you read about the photographer or hear her lecture about her work or know something about her homeland or culture, you can learn a lot more about photography and about the image itself. If you apprehend a picture in a vacuum, your experience of it is limited.

The magazine Aperture occasionally publishes entire issues of photographs by people of one country or culture. I have in my collection such titles as: "Haiti: Feeding the Spirit," "British Photography: Towards a Bigger Picture," "Ireland: A Troubled Mirror," "Immagini Italiane," "Strong Hearts: Native American Visions and Voices," and many others about specific cultures. While there is tremendous range and variety within each issue, it is fascinating to see a collective portrait of a place or culture arise from seeing them all together. It's a different experience from seeing each artist's work individually, certainly much richer than seeing his work out of context entirely, without knowing anything about him.

Personally, I am proud to have participated in group shows for women only, as well as shows by Philadelphians only or Pennsylvanians only. But because my work is about place, it is more important for me to identify my hometown in my artist's statements than it is for me to identify as female. (I'm not hiding anything, but my name is neutral.) If any individual does not think it's important to identify with a larger group, I have no problem with their decision to minimize that association. Nevertheless, critics, teachers, and historians will inevitably discuss that work in a larger context; after all, that's their job.

mark lindsey
13-Mar-2002, 00:46
Sandy, I never said that I didn't care anything about the person who made the photograph. I simply said that the color of their skin makes no difference whatsoever.

color doesn't indicate life experiences. It seems to me that your opinion is based on very stereotypical views.

"affirmative action of the arts" what a horrible concept.

Of course I'm sure that your responses would have been identical if the original question stated that he was looking only for "white male" photographers only! :)

Sandy Sorlien
13-Mar-2002, 09:07
Hi Mark, The implication of your last line is correct; if he had been looking for white male photographers I would have just ignored the post, thinking it was stupid, because probably 85% of photographers (and 95% of LF photographers) represented in museum collections, books, and magazines are white males. (This is my estimation based on 25 years in the field and casual observation of the content of photo mags -- anyone have actual statistics?)

You said you didn't care what color/sex someone is, yet you also say you are interested in the person who took the picture. It doesn't sound like you realize how much color/sex is an essential part of what makes that person who s/he is. (As a person and a photographer.)

We'll just have to disagree on affirmative action. I'm for it, because young people of color and young women need role models in positions of power and respect in order for the inequities of the past 400 years to be addressed. Young artists of color and young women artists need the same in their field. My female photography students are dying for some mentors.


Jim Billlups
13-Mar-2002, 12:18
Dan, Fred and others who seem to have a difficult time with this... I sense a great deal of anger and frustration on your behalf. You are obviously having a very difficult time trying o rationalize and justify your reasoning on what has turned into a race issue. I suggest you go back and read my original post. I posed this question "Does anyone know of contemporary African American large format photographers? I have a deep appreciation for the originality, sensitivity, expression and emotion often conveyed by African American?s, regardless of the art form"

Now, if I had asked if you felt (taking cultures into consideration) African American photographers were any different, produced a different style of work, or were denied access to opportunities as compared to White or Chinese American photographers, then maybe you could have gone off in the direction you did. But I did not. One individual, who identifies himself as ?Polar? attempted to correct me and tell me how to rephrase the question. Well, at 50 years of age, I don?t need Polar?s help in asking questions. I am quite able to think and reason for myself. Unfortunately and sadly, race still matters in America. All to often an individual?s character and abilities are secondary to ones ethnicity, or even gender for that matter. Still more, in their own warped sense of security continue to seek, or are receptive to the negative stereotypes of people from other cultures, lifestyles or backgrounds only to reinforce a limited ability to truly open their eyes and emotions to what is around them, let alone think for themselves. Again, I want to thank everyone for responding to my question.



Jim Billlups
15-Mar-2002, 00:19
For anyone interested, I came across a wonderful site called The "Chicago Alliance of African-American Photographers" http://www.caaap.org/main.html Their journey project, in which they document the Chicago African American community is the highlight!

They even received recognition on Kodaks website as well http://www.kodak.com/US/en/corp/magazine/photography/2001_02/project.s html in which they bring to light "the journey project"



Larry Smith
15-Mar-2002, 14:31
"Our cultural revolution must be the means of bringing us closer to our African brothers and sisters. It must begin in the community and be based on community participation. Afro-American will be free to create only when they can depend on the Afro-American community for support and Afro-American artists must realize that they depend on the Afro-Americans for inspiration."

- Malcolm X

mark lindsey
15-Mar-2002, 19:44
good thing Malcom x was moving away from such racist statements towards the end of his life.

Jonathan Brewer
15-Mar-2002, 20:35
'Cultural revolution',....'community',....'community participation',......'support',....'inspiration', there is nothing in the above statement that says anything about racism, refers to racism, encourages racism.

It may be a bit 'enthnocentric' for your tastes, but I think we've established that by now.

mark lindsey
16-Mar-2002, 02:29
its amazing how blind you are....

Depend on the afro american community......

depend on afro americans for inspiration...

your a blind fool, and thats been established also..

Jonathan Brewer
16-Mar-2002, 15:48
There is nothing blind or foolish about one African American depending on other African Americans, there is nothing blind or foolish about one African American getting inspiration from another, we all share a pride within our community regardless of who and what and where we are.

I made no personal attack whatsoever in the above response and was polite as I could be for three reasons. First, I'm sure that the moderator of this forum will see the response you have just made as a personal attack and remove it. Second, I will no longer make any personal references in my responses to these kinds of statements because I think they're important enough to remain in this forum instead of being deleted.

Thirdly, it's time for me to rise above the situation, with hopefully class and dignity.

Jonathan Brewer
16-Mar-2002, 16:14
One clarification.....Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Ralph Ellison, Charles White, Alexander Dumas, all these people and more inspired not only people of the same ethnic background but everyone.

Currently he fastest computer system on earth was designed by a Black man from Africa, Elijah McCoy(of the real McCoy fame) invented the forerunner of the lubrication systems for modern engines.

There is a wealth of information like this on sites like 'the patent cafe', just type in Black Inventors, and the list goes on, inspirational not only to the African Community but to everyone.

African Americans take pride in their community, in education, and look to inspiration to further themselves. No one can tarnish that concept.

Jim Billlups
16-Mar-2002, 17:38

Well said... Thank you

To everyone else who has shared in this, I want to say thank you. It takes a lot for many of us to open up and share our inner most feelings with others, whether they are perceived as good, bad, wrong or right. What is confirmed however, is that although there have been many accomplishments and strides in the area of race relations in this country; we still have a long ways to go. Keeping an open mind, listening and being receptive to others and fostering a HEALTHY exchange of ideas and communication is paramount if we are to succeed. Building bridges takes effort and strength. Tearing them down takes ignorance and hate. The attacks I have witnessed here are not new to me. They are real, and quite honestly I expected them. Some even felt it was necessary to send personal attacks directly to me via email. But as always I turn these negatives into positives and continue to fight even harder for what I believe in. I accept the fact that there are many frightened individuals who have a difficult time dealing with most any type of change or acceptance. They continue to live in their safe and enclosed little imaginary worlds? and yet call themselves ?creative? when they lack the ability to think or reason for themselves. ?God grants me the SERINITY to accept the things I cannot change; COURAGE to change the things I can and WISDOM to know the difference?

Time for me to go out and take some pictures :)

mark lindsey
16-Mar-2002, 19:20
no, you attacked me earlier in other posts,whats the difference?

you continue to infer that in some way I am racist, nonsense, I simply point out stupidity when I see it.

what do the great accomplisments of these people have to do with me or the conversation? oh yes, its because you choose believe I am racist and that in some way I am the problem here, just claiming me to be racist certainly takes away any responsibility on your part doesn't it?---I'm right and he is wrong, because he is racist!

Jim please cut the drama, I know all this uplifting talk makes you feel superior, but you nor anyone else on this forum is the spokesperson for your race,I'm sure many agree with your view, but there are many blacks who strongly disagree with you, but I guess you would call them sellouts---how sad.

Erik The Viking
16-Mar-2002, 20:05
Dear Jim and Jonathan

Thank you for rising above the situation. Please do not dignify the outbursts of a puerile mind with a response.

Jonathan Brewer
16-Mar-2002, 20:10
The difference is that you are the only one now continuing to make personal attacks, and this is your second one.

'depend on afro americans for inspiration...', this is a reference you made in your statement, and I simply state specific individuals who happen to be African Americans who inspire not only other African Americans, but everybody as well, that's what is has to do with the conversation.

As I have said in an earlier post, I will no longer comment on your personally, as to an opinion of whatever you are, I leave that to everyone reading this post to make their own judgement.

Jim in no way, shape, or form, sounded, suggested, or implied that he was superior. The 'spokeperson' statement need no further comment.

'but there are many blacks who strongly disagree with you, but I guess you would call them sellouts---how sad.....This statement by you is I suggest a non-issue, I have no problem with anyone who would disagree, including other African Americans.

The suggestion that Jim would accuse other African Americans who would disagree as being 'sellouts', I'm sure is a statement that can be judged on it's face by all viewing this post.

I have said and will honor my promise not to attack you personally, therefore whatever my responsibility is has ended.

Jonathan Brewer
16-Mar-2002, 20:14
Thank you Erik, I responded before you thread showed up, but in the spirit of ending this, I have made my last comment.

mark lindsey
16-Mar-2002, 21:04
ah yes the two of you being the first to attack, claiming my being a racist and now you are both above it all, how hypocritical.....yawn.

9-Apr-2005, 14:14
I wanted to ask a similar question, with respect to Black fine art photographers...amazing how this has caused such a row (3 years ag0!), and apparently hasn't been resurrected as a topic since. Interesting.

Jim Rice
9-Apr-2005, 18:50
There are folks more influenced by their heritage and gender than others. I would submit that each of us is on our own individual journey. If one's ethnicincty or gender plays a significant role in one's work as an artist then that is a fair criterium in the criticism of their work. If it is not, then it isn't. If I were to say "I really like the way that Japanese photographers work with color" then am I racist? I tend to think not. I think that I just like the way that Japanese photographers, as a generalization, work with color. Not that I'm dissing Japanese blank and white work. Heaven fucking forbid. ;=) But if I were to ask "who are the Japanese photographers who's color work blows you away, would this same dialog ensue? I don't pretend to have the answers, but I'm pretty sure that dismissing the question doesn't lead to a solution.

10-Apr-2005, 03:52
My curiousity, however, is piqued by the fact that I rarely see anyone who looks like me making fine art with film. Actually, I have yet to meet another Black person interested in photography purely as an art form. After a while, one begins to wonder if he is the only one.I supposed it has to do with a lack of interest among American Blacks in photography as an art form. The question that begs attenion, of course, is why?

And yes, I do have a problem with my ethnicity being tied to the work I do. I might not be so averse to this, had I been born in a less racially volatile and sensitive environment (i.e. soemwhere outside of the U.S.).

Ralph Barker
10-Apr-2005, 12:58
Percy - I'm not completely clear on what you mean by "purely as an art form". But, among the photographic Web acquaintenances whom I consider "friends", three happen to be African American. One is located in the SF Bay area, one in Ohio, and one in the deep South. The fellow in Ohio shoots fashion, mostly as a hobby, and the fellow in the deep South ran a commercial studio, while the SF Bay area fellow shoots mostly rangefinders with general topics. I'd consider all three as "art" photographers, and photographers who just happen to be Black. I see no particular influence of their ethnicity in their work - not that any such influence would be "bad". But, I have no clue as to why African Americans seem to be under-represented within the photographic populace. I've often lamented the same situation among models around the SF Bay area. Sociologists (assuming they were really neutral) might provide better answers to that question.

My personal feelings on the larger issue closely parallel Jim's comment above. We all tend to have our individual motivations toward photography, and sometimes those motivations create a "focus" to our work. If part of that motivation is based on heritage, then it becomes a factor in how the work is viewed - that is, whether the work succeeds at its intended purpose. But, I also feel there is a risk in considering the work of individual photographers outside their historical context. The time in which Gordon Parks grew up, for example, is considerably different than the atmosphere that exists now. (His book, "Choice of Weapons", provides an interesting insight into his development as a photographer, I think.)

It's unfortunate, I think, that we have so much trouble discussing race in the U.S., even when the nature of the work makes it a legitimate issue. Perhaps that's because so many people still have racial "hot buttons", and don't take the time to understand where the other person is coming from. It takes some time verbally "dancing" with another person to figure out what not to say, so as to avoid offending them.

10-Apr-2005, 14:39
Thank you, Ralph, for confirming my high opinion of the intellectual acuity that prevails in this forum.
By the way, interesting points.

Jim Rice
10-Apr-2005, 14:55
Percy, While we're here (and as far as I can tell, amongst ourselves ((hey Ralph)) ) I would be interested in knowing whether you feel significantly influenced by your ethnicity. I'm just trying to crawl into as many artistic insights as possible.

Ellis Vener
12-Apr-2005, 19:17
Actually, I have yet to meet another Black person interested in photography purely as an art form.

Gordon Parks. Earlie Hudnall, Junior . Lou Jones.

Those are three I've met. Actually I'm not sure I've ever met anyone of any skin color who was interested in photography purely as an art form --but I guess I just don't know people who inherited enough money to do that.

13-Apr-2005, 19:58
Ellis: interesting observation.
Jim: Interesting question...
my ethnicity infuences my work insofar as my work is influenced by who I am. We citizens of the U.S. are ethnically obsessive, to say the least. I once talked with a black photographer now living in Europe, who said something I thought was very profound. He said (I am paraphrasing a bit) that as Black men in the U.S., we are profiled all of the time, even by other Black people. I think that reasoning had a lot to do with his moving to the Netherlands. I am sure there is prejudice of one kind or another there--I have never visited--but his conversation indicated that he felt much more at ease; he was seen, according to his view, as just another man. If I accept is position as truth, then I am invariably influenced artistically by my ethnicity.

In terms of subject matter, I don't think I am influenced by being Black...unless you count my particular interest in drawing, painting, and photographing Black women. But I also have a deep appreciation for beauty I find in Native American women and men, especially those of advanced age. I would gladly spend the rest of my days in a Brazilian city, town or village making images of Brazilian women; I find their beauty unsurpassed by anything in nature. Given these interests, I do not think it is reasonable to attribute my appreciation for beauty, nor the drive to base derivative works on the same, as ethnically motivated.

Finally, I am one of those throw-backs who feel that art is simply "pretty stuff" that exists for the sake of being pretty. That is to say, I have no interest in investing my political and or social views into my art work. I am not sure if that is what you were meant.

So...I guess I'd have to say no, my work is not influenced by my ethnicity.

I hope this makes sense. If not, let us continue our discussion.

Struan Gray
14-Apr-2005, 01:53
Ellis, I seem to remember Tom Meyer saying that Atlanta has a black photographer's group, Zone III or something?

I hate it when people assume things about me because of my name, my clothes or my accent. I don't know how I would react to the persistent unthinking pidgeonholing that happens to dark-skinned friends of mine, but I'm sure it would piss me off. One friend I had as a doctoral student was very black and very tall. He was also very, very bright, and specialised in a hard sub-branch of theorectical physics. Within our group he was a physicist first and black second, but at conferences and meetings people would always want to talk about sports, not his work. He had to continually fight to be taken seriously as a scientist. Had I been him, I would find it very hard to keep that sort of experience out of my photography.

That said, I think it should be for individuals to decide for themselves how much their background and genetic inheritance should inform their work. There are Cindy Shermans and Francesca Woodmans who challenge and question how women are viewed and treated, and there are Anne Geddes types who conform wholly to society's expectations. I don't see why ethnicity can't admit a similar spectrum, and I don't see how it's my business to decide the issue for other people.

Jim Rice
14-Apr-2005, 22:34
Straun.......I couldn't agree more. The reason I've been beating this dead mule is that I am currently in the middle of a big ole fat block.
Percy....."Truth is beauty and beauty truth".
I must also admit to being too Faulknerian here.

Jim Rice
14-Apr-2005, 23:25
Alas, I misquoted Keats~""Beauty is truth, truth beauty,"--that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

Struan Gray
15-Apr-2005, 00:27
He also once said to his sons: "Uproar's your only music" :-)

Jim Rice
15-Apr-2005, 14:35
Sounds like me. ;=) "Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing"

Jim Rice
15-Apr-2005, 14:56
Though I think quoting dead Saxons is more than a little ironic.

15-Apr-2005, 15:24
Whether the medium be photography, painting, sculpture, etc, if there is an exhibit that has points of personal interest in it, I will endeavor to attend. I do not care what the persons ethnic background is. If their work is good, it is good. Let the work stand on its own. If it is an exhibit hyping hyphenated artists, I will decline. Seems they place more emphasis on the hyphenation than they do the works exhibited. Not interested. A well-performed piece of work is just that, regardless of the persons ethnic background. A well-hyped hyphenated-american show is nothing more than a well-hyped hyphen.

15-Apr-2005, 15:47
Dawoud Bey



Jonathan Brewer
8-Jun-2006, 21:25
Their are no dum and lazy 'slugs' of any ethic background, every group has something to contribute, something to add, profiling is a comment on the profiler, not the folks the profiler attempts to 'pidgeonhole'.

Augustus Washington was present at the very beginning and excelled at the artistry of the Dageurrotype, his artistry hasn't gained the recognition it should have, this wasn't his fault, but still, there are countless numbers of folks who don't know that an African American was one of the first Masters of the Daguerrotype.

One of the scientists working on America's first atomic bomb was nicknamed 'atomic negro', I doubt many folks know that, or his name, or that the inventor of the stop sign was African American, I could go on and on(go to black inventors for the contributions of African Americans). My point is that a lot of the contributions of African Americans have been buried, dismissed, and marginalized over the years, to where people assume those contributions don't exist, they do.

Check out some magnificent artifacts at www.hamillgallery.com ....you'll see
examples of the art and traditions of the Yoruba, a culture that goes back 5000 years, they understood geometry, metaphor, symbolism, and instilled these concepts into their religious artifacts,..........look at one of these artifacts, you'll view one artifact that isn't a man, but looks like one, but is in the face of a man, with antlers, because it's a metaphor/a representation of a Gazelle.

Depictions of a person's body with the head of animal, is a theme you'll see over and over in the artifacts of the Yoruba, which is one of the things Picasso picked up on when he came in contact with African Art.

I mention all this because I believe the richness of one's ethic background and unique experiences, can add a richness to his/her art, the racism part is the denial of all this because of a belief that African Americans, or Native Americans, or anyone of any particular background can't create art that is as complex/sophisticated as the art of a Rapheal or Rembrandt or a Carravaggio.

It's all good, always has been, I'm always reminded of that by perusing the Chinese forum I belong to(there are some brilliant shots on the Chinese forum, some that rival anything I've seen here from forums originating out of the states, what the Chinese don't have is our gear, they do have imagination), or when I roam around contemporary Russian photographers, ........and of course nobody every thinks, I'm Irish, I better frame over 5mm, when they take a shot.

Each culture has things that are unique and would make interesting photographs, that someone of a particular ethnic background may have access to because of that ethincity, but that has nothing to do with making the art, that's something different.

8-Jun-2006, 22:08
I simply said that the color of their skin makes no difference whatsoever. color doesn't indicate life experiences.

I don't think you could suggest that color doesn't have a profound effect on life experiences. In this culture and many others.

There may not be a distinctly black voice in photography in america, I don't know. but there certainly is in other art forms. In literature look at the entire Harlem Rennaissance; in music look at blues, gospel, early jazz, early r&b, early funk, early rock, and hip hop.

Styles and genres are determined culturally, not by skin color ... but for whatever anthropological reasons we have drawn many cultural lines based on skin color, and this has greatly influenced the experiences of the people involved. and subsequently influenced the art they made.

I don't know where you'd have to live these days to not see this.

None of this is to suggest that you can pigeonhole work based on the artist's ethnicity. Especially with contemporary work, now that many of the cultural lines have been blurred. And in the cases of people doing work that's distanced from their cultural surroundings (making work that looks more like 1920s California than 2000s Brooklyn, for example). But anyone dismissing the possibility of looking at work through a racial/cultural lens is kidding themselves.

Jonathan Brewer
9-Jun-2006, 00:45
'But anyone dismissing the possibility of looking at work through a racial/cultural lens is kidding themselves.'.........................I would dismiss it because I don't look at it that way,..........how you look at work is more of a comment on you than the work. It goes back to something I touched on regarding Picasso,.....before Picasso, much of what was/is considered African Art/scupture/mask/masked performance, was considered primitive, Picasso was profoundly affected by African Art, its spiritual power, geometry, symbolic power, and the representation of the metaphor.

The idea of the classical painting, of being able to represent foreshortening, perspective, and so on, in other words to be able to paint subject matter 'pretty', was juxtaposed by what Picasso discovered about African Art/sculpture, which weren't representational depictions of subject matter, because there were never intended to be works of art.

The artifacts of the Yoruba, their various scupltures and masks, were religious artifacts used in the pursuit of spirituality/meditation, and as representations of 'higher beings', fertility Gods, even a patron saint of workers,.............. Picasso had the gift of 'seeing' Africa Art for what it was, and that is a comment of Picasso's gift of seeing, and after Picasso, others could then see what he saw about African Art. The majority of African Art in terms of artifacts fashioned from gold, scuplture, et al is now in European galleries and museums.

I don't look through any kind of racial lens when looking at work, it's impossible not to look through a cultural lens, this is all about culture, it can't be any other way, we all are from somewhere, and in the best sense, we all convey the richness and uniqueness of our heritage, and how we see things. the problems with this issue comes with stereotype, as ridiculous as it it is, there are plenty of folks right now, that do not believe there any Blacks/African Americans who know how to take serious photographs, I've met a few...............I've gone into retail outlets, been approaced by salesman who asked me what I was looking for, I'd mention a sliding rollfilm holder for a Toyo AII, and I'd get a reply of 'where'd you hear that from, that's for a professional photographer', and Id simply tell this 'yokel' to go get me another representative.

This kind of stuff, in terms of what Paul R touched on is something that happens basically here, when I go to Brazil, I'm considered an Americano, and would be introduced/refered to in that manner as opposed to an 'Afican American', or a 'Black guy, ...... ironically, the spiritual descendants of the Yoruba belief systems came along with slavery to Bahia, the spiritual center of Brazil for many Afro Brazilians, which is significant since Brazil is half Black. Most folks in Brazil judge you on who you are, and don't really pay any attention to anything else. My point is that some folks tend to be quite touchy about skin color here in the states, to the extent that the biggest difference between people isn't their height, or gender, or whatever, but the darkness of their skin, I know that isn't news, but it means less/doesn't mean much most everywhere else.

Jonathan Brewer
13-Jun-2006, 20:21
Incidently, for those interested, the 'Atomic Negro' was Jesse Ernest Wilkins, who attained his Ph.D from the University of Chicago, he worked on the 'Manhatten Project' from 1944 to 1946.

Quoting another source about Professor Williams,................"From 1960-70, Wilkins was Assistant Chairman of the Theoretical Physics Department and Assistant Director of the Atomic Division of General Dynamics Corporation from 1960 to 1965. In 1970, Dr. Wilkins was appointed as Distinguished Professor of Applied Mathematical Physics at Howard University. Dr. Wilkins was a joint owner of a company which designed and developed nuclear reactors for electrical power generation.

Dr. J. Ernest Wilkins, Jr. is a past President (1974) of the American Nuclear Society. One of Wilkins' major achievements has been the development of radiation shielding against gamma radiation, emitted during electron decay of the Sun and other nuclear sources. He developed mathematical models by which the amount of gamma radiation absorbed by a given material can be calculated. This technique of calculating radiative absorption is widely used among researchers in space and nuclear science projects. In 1976, Wilkins was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering."

Andre Noble
13-Jun-2006, 22:48
There are NOT a lot of blacks in LF photography at any level, out of proportion to the % of population - at least from looking at the participant group shots from various workshops and conferences. As half African American / half "American of European descent", I hope I can say that. African Americans tend to express themselves artistically more through music and writing as opposed to visually.

Trends like this happen at any given time.

There are not a lot of whites running the quarter mile at the international level...

14-Jun-2006, 04:59
'But anyone dismissing the possibility of looking at work through a racial/cultural lens is kidding themselves.'.........................I would dismiss it because I don't look at it that way,.....

Because you choose not to look at work a certain way, you dismiss the possibility of looking at work in other ways?

The artifacts of the Yoruba, their various scupltures and masks, were religious artifacts used in the pursuit of spirituality/meditation, and as representations of 'higher beings', fertility Gods, even a patron saint of workers

What I'm not sure you see in this example is that these are PRECISELY definitions of art. The possibility of art existing as something other than sacred objects used for worship or meditation is a very recent one in the history of civilization

Picasso had the gift of 'seeing' Africa Art for what it was, and that is a comment of Picasso's gift of seeing

I can't comment on his ability to see it for what it was ... I have no way of knowing what he saw in it or what it meant to him. I do know that his contribution amounted to apropriating and recontextualizing it. He took certain formal and esthetic attributes of it, but left behind all the cultural/sacred attributes. This was a defining step for modernism, because it was a pure act of art as profanity, in the classical sense (of removing something from temple and bringing it out to the profanum, of secularizing it). He was, in effect, saying that we don't need to worship their gods to worship the forms that they wrought. This was an act of revolution, which implies creation but also violence.

He tore the work away from it's sacred roots. But does this suggest he saw it for "what it was," or simply that he found a way to see it as something else?

I don't look through any kind of racial lens when looking at work, it's impossible not to look through a cultural lens, this is all about culture, it can't be any other way, we all are from somewhere, and in the best sense, we all convey the richness and uniqueness of our heritage, and how we see things.

I agree with you here. Where my views conflict with yours are in the areas where race and culture are inextricably tangled. There are parts of our country (geographic and demographic), where race and culture are so closely tied that for all practical purposes you could consider them the same.

My argument is not that we must look at work racially, or even that we must look at it in terms of what culture produced it (Picasso, in your example, showed the possibility of pure formalism). I am only suggesting that looking at work as the product of a culture, which in some cases also implies race, is not only legitemate but natural. There are in fact whole schools of literary criticism that revolve around African American fiction as a racial-cultural phenomenon, championed by critics like Cleanth Brooks and Ishmael Reed. If it makes sense in literature I don't why not in photography.

Jonathan Brewer
14-Jun-2006, 11:56
You said this,..............."Because you choose not to look at work a certain way, you dismiss the possibility of looking at work in other ways?"..................the answer is of course not, 'cuz #1, I didn't say or suggest that, what I said was, I don't look at work through a racial lens, because everybody belongs to one race, the idea of different races doen't exist, we do however belong to various ethnic backgrounds, we all have a heritage, and #2, anyone can look at work in any way they wish, apart from me or anyone discussing it the way we're discussing it here.

You pick this statement of mine................"Picasso had the gift of 'seeing' Africa Art for what it was, and that is a comment of Picasso's gift of seeing"..........................and take it out of context, and then characterize it within a framework of yours and not the way I originally meant the statement. Before Picasso, African Artifacts such as the work of the Yoruba were 'dismissed' as crude and primitive, as I've said, they can choose to look at the work in any way they wish, ..............were they right? I suggest to you that they were totally off the 'mark'.

Picasso came along, was profoundly affected/inspired by Afican Art as it related to his own work, he saw something in Afican Art that CHANGED the way others saw it as it changed and evolved his work, he saw things in African Art that involved symbolism, and the metaphor, that created a change, a growth, a new way of thinking in the way he made art, and he provided us with a lens with which many could see what they could not see before.

You seem to suggest in your response that there's got to be some kind of specificity about all of this, I can't read Picasso's or any other artists mind in terms of what he/she was thinking in terms of what inspires the evolution of their art, I don't th ink it makes any difference, the inspiration is profound, the art evolves....... art and everything we're discussing now about art is on several levels, African Art was not created as just something to be looked at, but then again that would hold true for a painting that was not created as a means of worship, ...............a painting can involve a representation of something spiritual, we can be moved by that spiritualism and still appreciate the execution of the painting, and the reverse would be true when considering African Art.

We can understand art and how it reflects life, and culture, and religion, on many levels and any number of ways, to sum this all up, I think that the idea of 'race' the many folks think of it is 'blindness', they only 'see' stereotype regarding people that are not like them, the stereotyping extends not only to the people, but whatever they create, and hence we go back 'full circle' to the dismissal of African Art as 'crude' and 'primitive' and 'mindless'.

The more you travel, the more you see of the rest of the world, the more you can see how evident the idea becomes that the differences are a blessing/enrichment to our lives,...............one of the greatest photographs I ever saw, which is also a photograph that testifies to how silly the negative aspect of this can be, was taken when Muhammed Ali showed at at KKK rally, and was asked by several of the hooded folks if they could pose with him in a picture.

That picture shows the silliness and folly of rigid thinking/the stereotype/the hatred of our differences, I see people/their culture/folks of different ethnic backgrounds as additive, not subtractive, and their differences as an enrichment.

Jonathan Brewer
14-Jun-2006, 13:25
If you watch many of the commercials on TV, many/most of the African Americans will have an exaggerated 'souther drawl', even some of the actors/actresses where it's obvious to me that they're not from the south. The way they they've been directed to talk, the accent, is because the folks making the commerical, believe that all blacks talk that way, they don't, I don't, I'm from Chicago.

My wife of 25 years is from Arkansas, her folks who come to visit us will bust out laughing when they see one of these commercials, since they can tell a 'real' southern drawl. I live in a predominately white neighborhood, Redondo Beach, when we first moved here, on one of my morning walks, I had somebody watering his lawn, ask me if I needed directions back to my 'own' neighborhood. This guy couldn't 'see' me as somone who lives in the same community as him(and he wanted to let me know it).

I give up the above as examples of wanting to remain blind as opposed to any attempt to want to see, in regards to what you were saying about parts of our country where race and culture are inextricably intertwined as you suggest, as there's simply no thing as race, culture exists, race doens't, we're all in the same race, there's no race aspect of this, there's no such thing as racial because there was never any racial purity.

The belief in race, is part of the problem,...............they had a documentary about Thomas Jefferson's descendants on the discovery channel(I don't think it's any secret nowadays that Jefferson 'partied hard' with his African American slaves), in one scene they assembled a group of what was considered his African American descendants, many of them looked 'white', and lived as 'whitefolks', although many of them did not go out of their way to promote that they were anything other than what they were, African Americans who might look to some folks as if they were 'white', in fact it was their friends and co-workers and so forth who chose to think of them as 'white', some of these folks chose to live in predominately black communities.

Many African Americans, including an uncle of mine, passed himself off as white, to go a university which discriminated against blacks, once he got his degree, he was black again. The same thing was done by members of other ethnic backgrounds, and it has done for years/a lot of years, everybody has been 'mixing it up, and partying both ways', there's no race and/or racial purity, it doens't exist.

That some folks are entrenched and adamantine in believing old stereotypes and beliefs, is simply a cas of the closed mind determined to stay in a dark room instead of 'turning the light on', when they have the truth sitting in front of them.

There's different culture, there's ethnicity, there are no different races, just one.

Robert Oliver
14-Jun-2006, 13:29
I'm a fan of Dok Blanchard's work. Nice guy too. He's a large format photographer currently working out of the San Diego area.

Dok Blanchard (http://www.dokblanchard.com).

Bruce Watson
14-Jun-2006, 14:01
Fred has some good points, especially the one that being identified black/Latino/female/whatever can be a drawback when exhibitions are scheduled. But more often these days it's an advantage, as an implicit or explicit "affirmative action of the arts" has been taking place in many institutions. I'm all for that.
Sigh... Most people are for discrimination, as long as it works in their favor. At least you are honest about it. Not that it's anything to be proud of.

Jonathan Brewer
14-Jun-2006, 14:33
What my Uncle did has nothing to do with the way I feel, I disagree with what he did, and I did the opposite of him, I wore an Afro out to my shoulders, and was proud of it, and marched on the administration while in school several times for several issues regarding African American students.

You are nothing without pride in your heritage and where you came from, I believe that and teach my kids that. It's not hard to be honest about what my Uncle did, because that's what he did, his choice was his choice, but neither do I feel shame about his actions either, he did what he did to obtain something being refused him for no good reason, as to me, I'll always be upfront about what I am and pround of it.