Posts Tagged ‘Black American art

14
Jan
23

Exhibition: ‘Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Exhibition dates: 16th October 2022 – 16th January 2023

 

'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' book cover

 

Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power book cover

 

 

Visible Man / Invisible photographer

Only five of Black American Gordon Parks’ photographs of controversial young activist Stokely Carmichael were published in Life magazine in May 1967 in a photo essay with text by Parks titled “Whip of Black Power” out of the 700 photographs that he had actually taken for the assignment. This exhibition dives into these unseen photographs.

“”Whip of Black Power” recounts Parks’s travels with Carmichael from fall 1966 to spring 1967. While the Life essay contained only five photographs, this exhibition presents 53 of Parks’s images from those critical months, a time that coincided with larger social shifts within the civil rights movement and a rising resistance to the Vietnam War. Parks challenged the disparaging view of Carmichael in the mass media, presenting him as a multifaceted and honourable character.”1

“…Parks’s text and photo essay for Life conveyed the nuanced range of Carmichael as a person – not only his anger at America’s deeply rooted racism, but his self-effacing humour, his private moments with family, and his own feelings of dismay that the justice he and the movement sought would not be attained in his lifetime – all part of a “truth,” as Parks described, “the kind that comes through looking and listening.”2

As chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the charismatic Carmichael had “issued the call for Black Power in a speech in Mississippi in June 1966, eliciting national headlines, and media backlash.” “For once, black people are going to use the word they want to use – not just the words whites want to hear. And they will do this no matter how often the press tries to stop the use of the slogan by equating it with racism or separatism.” (Stokely Carmichael) The call for Black Power was consistently misunderstood and misrepresented in the press. “What Carmichael was advocating in his call for Black Power was not revolution but the goal of self-determination: “The goal of black self-determination and black self-identity – Black Power,” Carmichael and Hamilton wrote, “is full participation in the decision-making processes affecting the lives of black people, and recognition of the virtues in themselves as black people.”3

What Parks’ photographs accomplish is to put a human face to Stokely Carmichael the revolutionary firebrand and the culture of black protest, process and progress in which he is embedded, “presenting the complexities and tensions in the ongoing struggle for civil rights and highlighting photography’s capacity to present a powerful statement against hate and fear.”4 Parks’ photographs confront “the inequalities and brutalities of our society” whilst “thrusting forth its images of hope, human fraternity, and individual self-realization.”5 Here, living, a valuable and fruitful life whilst discovering an authentic personal identity, and fighting for personal and collective freedom was the objective.

Black people have their own history, traditions and rituals that form a cohesive and complex culture which is the source of a full sense of identity. “As a photographer – through his studies of crime and gang violence to his profiles of black nationalism – Parks illuminated the diversity and richness of black life while also exposing the absurd, systemic injustice that defined the United States. Alongside his photographs, Parks’s writing encourages us to see the complexity of black life, which though demeaned by white racist institutions and behaviors is not reducible to some uniform Black experience. Rather, his own political perspective, which is decidedly more liberal than the black political figures he chose as subjects, is a testament to the diverse strivings, political positions, and discrete prerogatives that have defined black political life during and after Jim Crow.”6

The quest for a viable identity is a universal human challenge which is not dependent on colour, race or religion. As the Black American writer Ralph Ellison observes when quoted in an article by Anne Seidlitz, “black and white culture were inextricably linked, with almost every facet of American life influenced and impacted by the African-American presence – including music, language, dance, folk mythology, clothing styles and sports. Moreover, he [Ellision] felt that the task of the writer is to “tell us about the unity of American experience beyond all considerations of class, of race, of religion.”7

This is what I am hammering on about here: whilst the civil rights movement and the call for Black Power promoted a new politics of black autonomy and militancy which embodied a new politics of black self-assertion and meaningful self-determination, everything is linked together… nothing can be seen other than within a nexus of networked links which inform and affect each other. In this sense Parks’ text and images, together, present a multi-dimensional profile of this charismatic leader, this complex character – as a portrait of his perseverance, gentleness, frustration, despair, joy, anger, laughter, enthusiasm, energy, and passion – sketching the musical and rhythmic character of Stokely Carmichael embedded within the history of interconnected moments, in the contexts of the times, seen through multiple openings in the space / time continuum as the camera lens opens and closes. Parks photographs “put the viewer exactly at the moment of capture letting us be there at the scene.” And they make Stokely Carmichael visible, then and now. At the time the photographer was nearly invisible.

“Now, it’s interesting to note that when I [Lisa Volpe] would share the photos with those men and women captured in them [Parks’ photographs], they all had a very similar reaction. Each one of them remembered the scene. They remembered that meeting, or that lecture, they remembered what was being discussed and how they felt. They really had perfect recall for pretty much everything within the frame … but what was interesting was that they were all shocked to see the photographs. Not a single person I talked to remembered Gordon Parks ever being in the room. Now… when he was on assignment he truly became a fly on the wall in order to get the most truthful images possible. And yes, even speaking to these ladies [in the photograph Sanamu Nyeusi (left) and Hasani Soto (right) of the US Organization at the Watts rally, Will Rogers Park, Los Angeles (1966,below)], they did not even notice Gordon Parks probably three feet in front of them taking their photo.”8

As the recognition of Parks as a photographer has risen over the last 10 years (see the many exhibition postings on Art Blart below), with specialist exhibitions like this that analyse and promote previously hidden aspects and bodies of his work, now at last the invisible photographer stands before us, his portrait of Stokely Carmichael finally revealed in all its subtlety and complexity, intuition and com/passion. In this exhibition for example, all Parks’ negatives on the Life contact sheets were in the wrong order, and / or where from different roll of negatives on the same contact sheet (see video below).9 Through research and the reordering of the negatives we can finally see and feel what images Parks thought were important to the story that he wanted to tell about this man and his crusade (A crusader is a person who works hard or campaigns forcefully for a cause). And through this enunciation of his vision, we the viewer may come to better know what an insightful and compassionate photographer Gordon Parks was… as he now stands before us in the evident presence and generosity of his photographs.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

1/ Text from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston website

2/ Text from the press release from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

3/ Cedric Johnson. “Luminous Exposures: Gordon Parks, Stokely Carmichael, and the Birth of Black Politics,” in Lisa Volpe. Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power. Steidl / The Gordon Parks Foundation / The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2022, p. 28-34

4/ Gordon Parks Introduction wall text

5/ Anne Seidlitz. “Ralph Ellison: An American Journey,” on the PBS American Masters website 19/02/2002 [Online] Cited 30/12/2022

6/ Cedric Johnson, Op cit.,

7/ Anne Seidlitz, Op cit.,

8/ Text from the video of Lisa Volpe, curator of photography, discussing acclaimed photographer Gordon Parks and offering an overview of the exhibition. Lecture | Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power on the YouTube website 8th January 2023 [Online] Cited 14/01/2022

9/ Ibid.,

 

Postings about Gordon Parks on Art Blart

.
Many thankx to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

In 1967, Life magazine published photographer Gordon Parks’ groundbreaking images and profile of Stokely Carmichael, the young and controversial civil-rights leader who, as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, issued the call for Black Power in a speech in Mississippi in June 1966, eliciting national headlines, and media backlash. On the road with Carmichael and the SNCC that fall and into the spring of 1967, Parks took more than 700 photographs as Carmichael addressed Vietnam War protesters outside the U.N. building in New York, with Martin Luther King, Jr.; spoke with supporters in a Los Angeles living room; went door to door in Alabama registering Black citizens to vote; and officiated at his sister’s wedding in the Bronx. In his finely drawn sketch of a charismatic leader and his movement, Parks, then the first Black staff member at Life, reveals his own advocacy of Black Power and its message of self-determination.

 

 

 

Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston exhibition walk through

 

 

Lecture | Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power

Lisa Volpe, curator of photography, discusses acclaimed photographer Gordon Parks and offers an overview of the exhibition, which captures the civil-rights movement and activist Stokely Carmichael in the 1960s.

 

Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power book cover

 

Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power book cover

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

Installation views of the exhibition Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

"'What Their Cry Means to Me' – A Negro's Own Evaluation" 'Life', May 31, 1963

 

“‘What Their Cry Means to Me’ – A Negro’s Own Evaluation”
Life, May 31, 1963
Text and photographs by Gordon Parks

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1963

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1963
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

"'I Was a Zombie Then – Like All Muslims, I Was Hypnotized'" 'Life', March 5, 1965

 

“‘I Was a Zombie Then – Like All Muslims, I Was Hypnotized'”
Life, March 5, 1965
Text by Gordon Parks
Photographs by Ted Russell, Bob Gomel, Henri Dauman, and Greg Harris

 

Gordon Parks 'Born Black' 1971

 

Gordon Parks, Born Black, J. B. Lippincott Company, 1971.

 

Gordon Parks. 'Muhammad Ali' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Muhammad Ali
1966
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

The MFAH exhibition centres on Gordon Parks’s five iconic images of controversial young activist Stokely Carmichael, published in Life magazine in May 1967. Organised with the Gordon Parks Foundation, the show presents dozens more photographs from Parks’s series that have never before been published or exhibited

Fifty-five years ago today, Life magazine published photographer Gordon Parks’s groundbreaking images and profile of Stokely Carmichael, the young and controversial civil-rights leader who, as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, issued the call for Black Power in a speech in Mississippi in June 1966, eliciting national headlines, and media backlash. On the road with Carmichael and the SNCC that fall and into the spring of 1967, Parks took more than 700 photographs as Carmichael addressed Vietnam War protesters outside the U.N. building in New York, with Martin Luther King, Jr.; spoke with supporters in a Los Angeles living room; went door to door in Alabama registering Black citizens to vote; and officiated at his sister’s wedding in the Bronx. In Parks’s finely drawn sketch of a charismatic leader and his movement, Parks, the first Black staff member at Life, reveals his own advocacy of Black Power and its message of self-determination.

On view only at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (October 16, 2022, to January 16, 2023), the exhibition Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power will present the five images from Parks’s 1967 Life article, in the context of nearly 50 additional photographs and contact sheets that have never before been published or exhibited, as well as footage of Carmichael’s speeches and interviews.

“Extending the Museum’s commitment to photography from the civil-rights era, and following our presentation of the exhibition Soul of a Nation in 2020, which included Gordon Parks’s famous 1942 American Gothic, I am very pleased that we are able to present Parks’s landmark project for Life magazine, in collaboration with the Gordon Parks Foundation,” commented Gary Tinterow, Director and Margaret Alkek Williams Chair of the MFAH. “Parks is well known as one of America’s most important 20th-century photographers; this exhibition will further illuminate his accomplishments as a writer and journalist, as well.”

Commented Lisa Volpe, exhibition curator and MFAH curator of photography, “Gordon Parks’s portrayal of Stokely Carmichael illustrates Parks’s unmatched talent in producing illuminating and sensitive profiles. Through dynamic photographs and a personal text, he sketches both his subject and the complexities and tensions inherent in the ongoing struggle for civil rights. It is as relevant to our current moment as it was to Life‘s readers in 1967. I am grateful to the Gordon Parks Foundation for the opportunity to present these never-before-seen works and to celebrate Parks’s legacy.”

 

Exhibition Background

Parks met Stokely Carmichael (later, Kwame Ture) in September 1966, as Carmichael’s rallying cry for “Black Power” was grabbing national attention. Parks was a prominent contributor to Life magazine, photographing and writing essays that chronicled, with his characteristic humanity, Benedictine monks and Black Muslims; a Harlem family and a teenage gang member. Carmichael, then 25 and a recent graduate with a philosophy degree from Howard University, was consistently in the news, whether publishing his own writing in the New York Review of Books or being profiled in Esquire and Look magazines.

As chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Carmichael was the figure most identified with the call for Black Power, and was routinely depicted as a representative of anger and separatism. But Parks’s text and photo essay for Life, “Whip of Black Power,” conveyed the nuanced range of Carmichael as a person – not only his anger at America’s deeply rooted racism, but his self-effacing humour, his private moments with family, and his own feelings of dismay that the justice he and the movement sought would not be attained in his lifetime – all part of a “truth,” as Parks described, “the kind that comes through looking and listening.”

 

Exhibition Organisation and Catalogue

This exhibition is organised by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in collaboration with the Gordon Parks Foundation.

The accompanying catalogue, Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power, published by Steidl, explores Parks’s groundbreaking presentation of Carmichael, and provides detailed analysis of Parks’s images and accompanying text. The book is the latest instalment in a series that highlights Parks’s bodies of work throughout his career, published by the Gordon Parks Foundation and Steidl. Essays by Lisa Volpe, MFAH associate curator of photography, and Cedric Johnson, professor of African American studies and political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, shed critical new light on the subject: Volpe explores Parks’s nuanced understanding of the movement and its image, and Johnson frames Black Power within the heightened social and political moment of the late 1960s. Carmichael’s September 1966 essay in the New York Review of Books, “What We Want,” is reproduced in the book.

 

Gordon Parks

Parks (1912-2006) was one of the 20th century’s preeminent American photographers. Beginning in the 1940s and through the early 2000s, he created work that focused on social justice, race relations, the civil-rights movement, and the African American experience. Born into poverty and segregation in Fort Scott, Kansas, Parks won a Julius Rosenwald Fund fellowship in 1942, and went on to create groundbreaking work for the Farm Security Administration and magazines such as Ebony, Vogue, and Life, where he was staff photographer for more than two decades. Beyond his work in photography, Parks was a respected film director, composer, memoirist, novelist, and poet.

 

Stokely Carmichael

Carmichael (1941-1998) was born in Trinidad; he moved to New York City’s Harlem neighbourhood when he was 11 and became a naturalised U.S. citizen two years later. An effortless orator, a brilliant student, and a captivating leader, Carmichael found his calling as an activist. While an undergraduate at Howard University, he joined the Freedom Riders on several trips. After graduation, he was a field organiser for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and became national chairman in 1966. Carmichael heralded a new chapter in the civil-rights movement when he called for Black Power. In 1969 he moved to Conakry, Guinea, where, having adopted the name Kwame Ture, he dedicated his work to Pan-Africanism and liberation movements worldwide.

 

The Gordon Parks Foundation

The Foundation permanently preserves the work of Gordon Parks; makes it available to the public through exhibitions, books, and digital media; and supports artistic and educational activities that advance what Parks described as “the common search for a better life and a better world.”

Press release from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

 

Gordon Parks Interprets Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” | UNIQLO ARTSPEAKS

A prelude to the Civil Rights movement. Naeem Douglas, a content producer on the Creative Team (at MoMA), finds contemporary resonance in a selection of photographs – including 1952’s “Emerging Man, Harlem, New York” – that Gordon Parks created to celebrate Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man.”

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Stokely Carmichael, Lowndes County, Alabama' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Stokely Carmichael, Lowndes County, Alabama
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Carmichael on the road in Lowndes County, Alabama, 1966

In defiance of the governing party’s symbol – a white rooster with the phrase “White supremacy for the right” above it – Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO) chose a black panther as its symbol, an animal that becomes ferocious when cornered.

Carmichael proudly wore his Black Panther sweatshirt when he was working in Lowndes County. Taken from a low angle, Parks’s portrait presents Carmichael as a heroic figure, fighting for the rights emblazoned on his shirt: freedom and justice.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Watts Community Alert Patrol flyer at SNCC's Atlanta headquarters' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Watts Community Alert Patrol flyer at SNCC’s Atlanta headquarters
1966
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee pamphlet' 1966

 

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee pamphlet
1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Atlanta, Georgia' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Atlanta, Georgia
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Carmichael at his desk at SNCC’s Atlanta headquarters, 1966

In his profile of Carmichael, Parks aimed to combat the mass media’s one-sided depictions of the civil rights leader by capturing his complex character and emotions. At SNCC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, Parks documented Carmichael in a moment of weary frustration. A portrait of Malcolm X, photographs of Lowndes County residents, and SNCC pamphlets hang above the modest desk. Carefully composed, Parks’s photo guides viewers to a more holistic understanding of Carmichael. The view of the slumped leader with images above him also recalls scenes of religious pilgrims at an altar, deep in thought and prayer.

Label text from the exhibition

 

 

Gordon Parks Introduction wall text

In fall 1966 the American photographer and writer Gordon Parks (1912-2006) was contracted by Life magazine to profile 25-year-old Stokely Carmichael, one of the most maligned and misunderstood men in America.

Carmichael, the newly elected chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “snick”), issued the first public call for Black Power on June 16, 1966, in Greenwood, Mississippi. This robust vision for a Black, self-determined future combined Black unity for social and political advancement, the breaking of psychological barriers to self-love, and self-defence when necessary. Yet, media organisations dissected and defined Black Power for white audiences with various levels of prejudice and fear, and Carmichael was cast as a figure of racial violence – a distortion of his character and his message.

“Whip of Black Power,” recounts Parks’s travels with Carmichael from fall 1966 to spring 1967. While the Life essay contained only five photographs, this exhibition presents 53 of Parks’s images from those critical months, a time that coincided with larger social shifts within the civil rights movement and a rising resistance to the Vietnam War. Parks challenged the disparaging view of Carmichael in the mass media, presenting him as a multifaceted and honourable character.

Produced more than 40 years ago, Gordon Parks’s revealing profile on Stokely Carmichael is as relevant to our current moment as it was in 1967, presenting the complexities and tensions in the ongoing struggle for civil rights and highlighting photography’s capacity to present a powerful statement against hate and fear.

Unless otherwise noted, all works are by Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) and are courtesy of The Gordon Parks Foundation.

Text from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael (bottom) speaking to SNCC members and staff of The Movement, including Terry Cannon (top right, wearing glasses) and Bobbi Ricca (top right), San Francisco' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael (bottom) speaking to SNCC members and staff of ‘The Movement’, including Terry Cannon (top right, wearing glasses) and Bobbi Ricca (top right), San Francisco
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael speaking to SNCC members and staff of The Movement, San Francisco' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael speaking to SNCC members and staff of ‘The Movement’, San Francisco
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee poster, 1966

 

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee poster
1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael with Charles V. Hamilton reading a profile of Stokely in the January 1, 1967, issue of Esquire, Oxford, Pennsylvania' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael with Charles V. Hamilton reading a profile of Stokely in the January 1, 1967, issue of Esquire, Oxford, Pennsylvania
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

“We were in the home of [Carmichael’s] friend and adviser Charles V. Hamilton, chairman of the political science department, located near Oxford, PA,” Parks noted in his Life essay. Parks captured Carmichael and Hamilton writing and editing portions of the book, Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America, published in October 1967. The text was one of many attempts to clarify the meaning of Black Power for a larger audience. Parks’s images from one writing session show the authors alternating between moments of intense concentration and overwhelming joy.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Watts Community Alert Patrol providing transportation for the Watts rally, Los Angeles' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Watts Community Alert Patrol providing transportation for the Watts rally, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

The Community Alert Patrol (CAP) was formed in the aftermath of the 1965 Watts Uprising. Ron Wilkins, whose car is pictured in the background, noted, “CAP volunteers constituted the first community organisation in the U.S. whose members put their lives on the line to police the police in an effort to end law enforcement’s campaign of terror against Black people.” Fearing police interference, CAP members drove Stokely Carmichael and Gordon Parks to the Watts rally in 1966.

Label text from the exhibition

 

 

Gordon Parks Section Panels

Lowndes County, Alabama, and Atlanta, Georgia

Although 80 percent of Lowndes County was Black, by 1965, not one Black resident was registered to vote. That year, Carmichael created the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO), a political party formed of Black residents with candidates and an agenda drawn from the community. Carmichael was certain, “If we can break Lowndes County, the rest of Alabama will fall into line.” The young leader set a dizzying schedule throughout the end of 1966 and start of 1967, travelling between Lowndes and SNCC events across the nation. Gordon Parks documented his efforts along the way, revealing Carmichael’s adaptability and charisma.

 

Watts, California

The Watts Uprising took place in August 1965 in a Black neighbourhood of South Central Los Angeles. It began with the arrest of a local man, Marquette Frye, by a highway patrol officer and ended with 4,000 arrests, 1,000 injuries, and 34 deaths. Carmichael spoke to thousands of residents one year later at the Watts rally. In a speech that resonates today, Carmichael declared, “We have to have community alert patrols, not to patrol our neighbourhoods, but to patrol the policeman.” Gordon Parks recorded the jubilant reactions of the community in words and pictures and opened his Life photo-essay by describing the energetic scene.

 

Across the Country

At a press conference following his election as chairman in May 1966, Carmichael found the white press members vehemently opposed to SNCC’s call for Black Power. He recalled, “[It was] as though they were stuck in 1960 with the student sit-ins and we were speaking in unknown tongues… [They] missed that the new direction was simply a necessary response to current political realities.” To clarify the position, Carmichael wrote persuasive articles, oversaw hundreds of press releases, agreed to dozens of interviews, and spoke across the country. Despite these efforts, Black Power was consistently misunderstood and misrepresented in the press. Carmichael noted the only fair assessment was Gordon Parks’s Life photo-essay.

 

New York, New York

On April 15, 1967, outside the United Nations headquarters, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Harry Belafonte, Dr. Benjamin Spock, Stokely Carmichael, and others addressed a massive crowd at the Spring Mobilization against the War in Vietnam. Carmichael’s rousing speech at the anti–Vietnam War demonstration inspired Parks to write, “[Carmichael] was on fire, spitting his heat into the crowd.” Parks’s photographs from the event similarly depict Carmichael as a fiery figure, leaning toward his audience, his gaze direct and burning, his open coat thrashing the air like licking flames.

 

Houston, Texas

Just days after Gordon Parks’s photo-essay “Whip of Black Power” was printed in Life magazine, Stokely Carmichael visited Houston. He delivered speeches at the University of Houston (UH) and at Texas Southern University (TSU). “We will define ourselves as we see fit. We will use the term that will gather momentum for our movement,” Carmichael said, addressing public critiques of Black Power. The speeches were part of a SNCC nationwide campus tour. Yet, Carmichael’s appearance in Houston was auspiciously timed. Spring 1967 was a time of heightened social unrest in the city, and local universities were hubs of civil rights activism.

Text from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

Black Panther Party pamphlet 1966

 

Black Panther Party pamphlet
1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Watts, California' 1967, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Watts, California
1967, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Members of the US Organization, including James Doss-Tayari (left), Tommy Jaquette-Mfikiri (behind Carmichael), and Ken Seaton-Msemaji (right), walking with Carmichael to the Watts rally, Los Angeles, 1966.

Parks had little control over the final pictures and captions chosen by Life‘s editors. However, his role as both a writer and photographer allowed him more influence than most. With knowledge gained through experience, Parks carefully crafted a statement in words and pictures that was less vulnerable to the editing process. The largest of only five images published in Life, this photo was like many others in the press at the time, presenting Carmichael as cocky and determined. Yet, the vast majority of Parks’s other images captured him in tender and humanising moments, bringing out the full character of this public figure.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Crowd at the Watts rally, Will Rogers Park, Los Angeles' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Crowd at the Watts rally, Will Rogers Park, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Los Angeles, California' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Los Angeles, California
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Carmichael addresses the Watts crowd from a truck bed, Los Angeles 1966

In the essay, Parks quotes Carmichael, “Black Power means black people coming together to form a political force either electing representatives or forcing their representatives to speak their needs. It’s an economic and physical bloc that can exercise its strength in the black community instead of letting the job go to the Democratic or Republican parties or a white-controlled black man set up as a puppet to represent black people. Black Power doesn’t mean anti-white, violence, separatism, or any other racist things the press says it means. It’s saying. ‘Look, buddy, we’re not laying a vote on you unless you lay so many schools, hospitals, playground and jobs on us.'”

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Sanamu Nyeusi (left) and Hasani Soto (right) of the US Organization at the Watts rally, Will Rogers Park, Los Angeles' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Sanamu Nyeusi (left) and Hasani Soto (right) of the US Organization at the Watts rally, Will Rogers Park, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Members of civil rights organisations across Southern California came together to present a panel of speakers at the Watts rally in November 1966, culminating in a keynote speech from Stokely Carmichael. Parks was struck by the intensity of those gathered and chose to focus on the energy of the crowd both in his Life essay and in his numerous photographs from the day. In this photograph, members of the cultural nationalist organisation “Us” react to Carmichael’s fiery speech. Their yellow sweatshirts bearing the image of Malcolm X were a reminder to unite in brotherhood.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael leaving the Watts rally in a Community Alert Patrol car, Los Angeles' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael leaving the Watts rally in a Community Alert Patrol car, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Parks wrote in his essay, “On the way out [of the Watts rally], groups of boys and girls rushed the car. Stokely waved at them. … ‘People think I’m militant. Wait until those kids grow up! There are young cats around here that make me look like a dove of peace.'”

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael continuing the campaign for voter registration in Lowndes County, Alabama' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael continuing the campaign for voter registration in Lowndes County, Alabama
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Parks shadowed Carmichael as he went door to door to register voters in Lowndes County, marveling at the young activist’s ability to “adjust to any environment,” and noting how Carmichael changed his manner of dress and speech to put his audience at ease. While Carmichael’s tireless efforts recommended him for the role of chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), he always felt more suited for community organising. He revealed to Parks that he was “anxious to return” to field work and resigned from leadership in May 1967, just days before Parks’s photo-essay was published in Life.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Contact sheet of Carmichael in Lowndes County, Alabama' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Contact sheet of Carmichael in Lowndes County, Alabama
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

This contact sheet shows nine of Gordon Parks’s photographs of Stokely Carmichael walking at daybreak through Lowndes County. Each image bears a striking resemblance to the opening photograph of the 1948 Life photo-essay “Country Doctor,” by W. Eugene Smith. In that famous image, Dr. Ernest Ceriani walks through a field at dawn to reach a sick patient. Here, Parks harnessed the temperamental skies, rural setting, and lone figure to intentionally echo Smith’s image. By doing so, Parks cast Carmichael, like the Country Doctor, as a selfless local hero, working for the benefit of others.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Bronx, New York' 1967

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Bronx, New York
1967
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Mary Charles Carmichael serving her children Lynette and Stokely at Lynette’s wedding dinner in the Bronx, 1966

Weddings were a frequent subject in Life‘s photographs. Parks knowingly exposed several rolls of film at Carmichael’s sister’s wedding in December 1966. The variety, amount, and quality of the images would have encouraged the editors to add one of the photos to the final printed essay. Parks knew that showing Carmichael as part of this conservative tradition would contradict the popular impression of him as an anarchist and outsider.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael speaking at a private home, Los Angeles' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael speaking at a private home, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

In “Whip of Black Power,” Parks wrote, “In the four months that I traveled with him I marvelled at his ability to adjust to any environment. Dressed in overalls, he tramped the backlands of Lowndes County, Alabama, urging Negroes, in a Southern-honey drawl, to register and vote. The next week, wearing a tight dark suit and Italian boots, he was in Harlem lining up ‘cats’ for the cause… A fortnight later, jumping from campuses to intellectual salons, where he was equally damned and lionised, he spoke with eloquence and ease about his cause, quoting Sartre, Camus and Thoreau.”

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael at a SNCC gathering, Los Angeles' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael at a SNCC gathering, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Luminous Exposures: Gordon Parks, Stokely Carmichael, and the Birth of Black Politics

Cedric Johnson

Gordon Parks’s 1967 Life magazine article on Stokely Carmichael, “Whip of Black Power,” still radiates more than a half century since its publication. It is an invaluable artifact of black political life during the sixties, but so much more. In images and words, Parks depicted the warmth and generous spirit of Carmichael, the youthful civil rights activist morphing into celebrity. In hindsight, the essay also effectively captures Carmichael in political twilight, at the height of his political relevance. Parks’s essay portends the triumphs and new social contradictions set in motion by Black Power militancy. Within a few years of Parks’s Life article, Carmichael would go into exile, taking up residence in the Guinean capital of Conakry, and rather than stoking revolution on American soil, the Black Power slogan he popularized would produce broad, unprecedented black political and economic integration into American society.

Stokely Standiford Churchill Carmichael was born on June 29, 1941, in Port of Spain, Trinidad. His early years were spent among a large extended family on the island, and at age eleven he joined his parents in New York City. Carmichael’s father, Adolphus, was a master carpenter who also worked as a taxi driver and at various odd jobs. Carmichael often said his father died of hard work, suffering a heart attack in his forties. Carmichael’s mother, Mabel, a native of Montserrat, supported the family through domestic work and as a passenger ship stewardess. She remained a dominant influence for Carmichael. “This little dynamo of a woman,” he wrote, “was the stable moral presence, the fixed center around which the domestic life of this migrant African family revolved. … We children quickly learned to see her as tireless, omnipresent, and all-seeing, the ever vigilant enforcer of order and family standards, whose displeasure was to be avoided at all costs.”1 Carmichael was, for a time, the sole black member of the Morris Park Dukes, a youth gang in the mostly Jewish and Italian Tremont section of the Bronx, and he was also among the most promising students admitted to the prestigious Bronx High School of Science. Acclaimed science fiction writer and fellow Bronx Science alumnus Samuel R. Delany, who met Carmichael in freshman gym class, recalled him as someone who “had always been quick with banter and repartee with the gym teacher, who’d alternated between enjoying it and being frustrated by it.”2 When the two students once spent detention together, Carmichael held court with the teacher assigned to supervise them and managed to soften him up to the point of laughter. Carmichael’s capacity to win people over with humor and charisma would serve him well when he dove deeper into political life in his twenties.

As a boy in Trinidad, Carmichael had expressed a precocious interest in politics, and his friendship with Gene Dennis, Jr., a classmate at Bronx Science and a red-diaper baby [a child of parents who were members of the United States Communist Party (CPUSA) or were close to the party or sympathetic to its aims], further politicized the young Carmichael, introducing him to the world of the New York left and acquaintances such as socialist and civil rights strategist Bayard Rustin [American, 1912-1987, an African American leader in social movements for civil rights, socialism, nonviolence, and gay rights]. Although he was initially skeptical and at times dismissive of desegregation protests, Carmichael was eventually drawn to the gathering southern movement, and after he witnessed the heroism of lunch counter protesters in 1960, as he described it, “something happened to me. Suddenly I was burning.”3 The next year, while a freshman at Howard University, he traveled as a Freedom Rider to Mississippi, where he was arrested and detained at the notorious Parchman Farm prison for forty-nine days [Mississippi State Penitentiary (MSP), also known as Parchman Farm, is a maximum-security prison farm located in unincorporated Sunflower County, Mississippi, in the Mississippi Delta region]. During his time at Howard, Carmichael spent three summers working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “snick”), organizing voter registration drives, and in 1966, after graduating, he became chairman of the organization. Concurrent with his new leadership position, Carmichael’s political development tracked the transition from the southern campaigns against Jim Crow to the increasingly militant protests of late-sixties urban rebellions and anti-Vietnam mobilizations.

In “Whip of Black Power,” Parks summed up Carmichael’s charismatic manner and the new politics of black autonomy and militancy: “Cool, outwardly imperturbable, Stokely gives the impression he would stroll through Dixie in broad daylight using the Confederate flag for a handkerchief.”4 Parks’s images present Carmichael in all his glory. Youthful, confident, hip, and exuberant, Carmichael embodied a new politics of black self-assertion. His words were sharp, witty, and playful, yet deadly serious in their indictment of American racism and imperialism. But Parks also sensed naivete and disingenuous motives in the new black militancy, later writing that many younger activists seemed “obsessed with a hunger for danger.”5

 

The Origins of Black Power

By the time Parks’s photo essay was published in Life, Carmichael was widely seen as the progenitor of Black Power. The slogan had emerged from the ranks of SNCC activists, propelled in part by longer-standing, simmering tensions over strategy and tactics, interracialism, and the promise of liberal democracy, which sharpened as the movement produced historic victories in the form of national civil rights legislation. Even in the aftermath of historic reform, white vigilante retaliation against the southern movement tested the resolve of SNCC cadre, with some increasingly embracing black political autonomy and armed self-defense, in stark contrast to the interracialist and nonviolent commitments of the organization’s founding.

After the March 1965 murder of Viola Liuzzo, a white NAACP member who had traveled from Michigan to join the Selma-to-Montgomery marches, SNCC activists began organizing in Lowndes County, Alabama. At the time, the county was 86 percent black but had no black registered voters, reflecting the pervasive disfranchisement through the cotton counties of the Black Belt on the eve of the Voting Rights Act. Carmichael and other SNCC activists formed the Lowndes County Freedom Organization to register voters and elect the area’s first black political candidates. Members adopted the image of a pouncing black panther as the organization’s logo.6 One of the more striking pictures in Parks’s 1967 article is of Carmichael staring plaintively on a gravel road in Lowndes, smartly dressed, his hands in his back pockets, his sweatshirt emblazoned with the panther symbol.

Carmichael came to head SNCC through a contentious process. In early 1966, John Lewis, a soft-spoken Alabama native, was reelected as chairman, but at the end of a late-night meeting and after many staff members had gone home, Lewis’s election was overturned by the remaining attendees, and Carmichael was installed. As historian Clayborne Carson and others have noted, Carmichael made a choice in the ensuing months between, on one hand, continuing the grounded political work SNCC had conducted in places like Lowndes, and on the other, “becoming preoccupied with rhetorical appeals for the unification of black people on the basis of separatist ideals.”7 This development would be tragic for SNCC, which, along with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), proceeded to expel white members. Carmichael and some SNCC members embraced more militant posturing and drifted further away from the local organizing campaigns that had won real victories for black southerners, and what resulted was the precipitous decline and political irrelevance of the organization.

Some SNCC members used the slogan “Black Power for Black People” during the Alabama voting rights campaigns of 1965. In Harlem, leaders including Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., and tenant organizer Jesse Gray had also used the phrase “Black Power,” as had Richard Wright, who published a travelogue of his time in newly independent Ghana with that title.8 It was SNCC activist Willie Ricks, however, who began using the phrase in speeches throughout the South, often asking from the podium, “What do you want?” to audiences, who shouted back, “Black Power!”

The slogan reached national consciousness amid the 1966 Meredith March Against Fear. In June 1966, James Meredith, who had integrated the University of Mississippi, set out on a lone march from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi, through the staunchly segregationist Delta counties. He was shot in ambush on the second day of his journey and had to be hospitalized. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, as well as the younger, more militant CORE and SNCC, decided to continue the march on Meredith’s behalf. During an overnight stop in Greenwood, Mississippi, Carmichael used the chant Ricks had developed, sparking excitement from the crowd, consternation from the civil rights establishment, and hysteria from the white press. In the wake of the Meredith March, Black Power militancy reoriented black political life, igniting public debate, new mobilizations and local campaigns, and heightened scrutiny of the established leadership, strategies, and goals that had defined the postwar civil rights movement.

The demand for Black Power, intended to build real power for the most dispossessed working-class denizens of black southern towns and northern ghettos, had many unintended consequences. Black poverty would be cut in half in the years after major civil rights reforms, and the ranks of the black middle class would expand greatly through antipoverty measures, access to higher education, and public employment, but real, meaningful self-determination for those trapped at the bottom of the nation’s socioeconomic ladder would remain elusive.

 

Seeing Black Political Life with Gordon Parks

Representation of the growing Black Power movement in the popular press was key to both its successes and its failures. Although Parks was among several photographers whose images of the movement throughout its evolution influenced its perception, his position as a black photographer working for a publication targeted at a predominantly white audience placed him in a unique position. He was among America’s greatest twentieth-century intellectuals, a designation denied to him by the yoke of Jim Crow that dominated that century. As a photographer – through his studies of crime and gang violence to his profiles of black nationalism – Parks illuminated the diversity and richness of black life while also exposing the absurd, systemic injustice that defined the United States. Alongside his photographs, Parks’s writing encourages us to see the complexity of black life, which though demeaned by white racist institutions and behaviors is not reducible to some uniform Black experience. Rather, his own political perspective, which is decidedly more liberal than the black political figures he chose as subjects, is a testament to the diverse strivings, political positions, and discrete prerogatives that have defined black political life during and after Jim Crow. His voice, especially in the context of his work on black nationalism, adds a critical-sympathetic view of this political alternative to the postwar civil rights movement.

In his writings on black nationalism – ranging from his 1963 Life article on the Nation of Islam, “‘What Their Cry Means to Me,'” to his 1967 essay on Carmichael – we find Parks, like many black people at the time, cautious, curious, and not always in full agreement, but certainly inspired by the example of these black nationalist figures and movements. As Parks said of Malcolm X in the wake of his murder, “He was brilliant, ambitious and honest. And he was fearless. He said what most of us black folk were afraid to say publicly.”9 In many ways, Parks’s politics were undoubtedly closer to those of the vast majority of black people living through the end of Jim Crow. His commitment to work for a mainstream magazine was criticized by his black peers, at a time when many were touting black cultural autonomy and the formation of separate institutions. His choice to use the Life magazine platform reflected the liberal democratic spirit of the civil rights movement and prefigured the unprecedented integration of black actors, writers, musicians, and producers into the culture industry in the closing decades of the twentieth century.

Parks’s work remains sympathetic to black nationalism, however, in as much as he provides an antidote to the slander, fear mongering, and “black domination” narratives that defined mainstream press coverage, such as The Hate That Hate Produced, the 1959 CBS documentary co-produced by Mike Wallace and black journalist Louis Lomax. Parks’s photographs and essays during the sixties reflect the optimism and surging sense of political efficacy coursing through black life at the time, as well as lurking social and political contradictions.

In his exchanges with Carmichael, we find Parks reflective and at times skeptical. In an especially poignant, self-effacing conclusion to his 1967 “Whip of Black Power” article, Parks momentarily compares Carmichael’s position on the Vietnam War to that of his own son, David, who was serving as an Army tank gunner. Carmichael had expressed the increasingly popular view in black communities that Vietnam was not their war. “Our stake will come from the struggle against white supremacy here at home,” Carmichael said. “I’d rather die fighting here tomorrow than live 20 years fighting over there. Why should I go help the white man kill other dark people while he’s still killing us here at home?”10 Parks’s son David had been awarded the Purple Heart medal for bravery in combat, but in the face of Carmichael’s sharp criticism, Parks now “wondered which boy was giving himself to a better cause.”11 “There was no immediate answer,” he concluded. “But in the face of death, which was so possible for both of them, I think Stokely would surely be more certain of why he was about to die.”12

 

The Meaning of Black Power

The same year “Whip of Black Power” was published, Carmichael and political scientist Charles V. Hamilton published Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America, an attempt to operationalize the political slogan. They rejected reactionary claims that Black Power meant “racism in reverse” and “black supremacy.” Although Carmichael’s public rhetoric constantly evoked a coming revolution, the actual definition of Black Power he and Hamilton provided was something tamer, the pursuit of black empowerment in the mold of urban ethnic politics. “The goal of black self-determination and black self-identity – Black Power,” Carmichael and Hamilton wrote, “is full participation in the decision-making processes affecting the lives of black people, and recognition of the virtues in themselves as black people.” Black Power, they continue, meant that “in Lowndes County, Alabama, a black sheriff can end police brutality. A black tax assessor and tax collector and county board of revenue can lay, collect, and channel tax monies for the building of better roads and schools serving black people.”13

National legislation and demographic changes made the pursuit of this black ethnic politics touted by Carmichael and Hamilton possible in various locales from northern urban centers to the majority-black rural counties of the southern Black Belt. The Black Power slogan emerged from the internal debates over strategy and organizing approaches within SNCC as members sought to empower black southerners who had endured a long winter of disfranchisement and dispossession. The national popularity of Black Power, however, was propelled by the political possibilities created by the victories of the Second Reconstruction, the restoration of black suffrage rights and passage of anti-discrimination and antipoverty legislation under the Johnson administration. In terms of urban investments, the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act and, later, the Model Cities program channeled federal grants to local jurisdictions, and these policy initiatives had the longer-term effect of cultivating and empowering a post-segregation generation of black urban political leadership.14 In addition, the demography of many American cities was changing rapidly due to suburbanization, and as whites vacated old-ethnic enclaves in the urban core, many cities became majority or near-majority black.

Black Power as employed by Carmichael and Hamilton advanced two political myths that remain prevalent and dangerous into our own times – that interracial coalitions are ineffective and doomed to failure, and that black unity is a necessary part of black political life. Both notions are predicated on the false assumption that political interests are synonymous with racial affinity. Surely, practical black solidarity was central to the local boycotts, lunch counter sit-ins, and other demonstrations that would defeat Jim Crow, but the political triumphs of the postwar civil rights movement were always interracial in composition, with Americans of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds and classes contributing to the movement as donors, volunteers, legal counsel, activists, trainers, participants, lobbyists, legislators, and supporters. And both of those anti-interracialist notions run counter to the basic majoritarian premise of liberal democratic society, where broad coalitions and mass pressure have been fundamental to whatever real social justice has ever been accomplished in the United States.

While Carmichael would leave the United States for West Africa and become the leading spokesperson for the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party after the death of its founder, deposed Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah, many of his SNCC comrades would enter institutional politics in the United States. John Lewis would go on to become a long-serving congressman from Georgia, Eleanor Holmes Norton was the District of Columbia’s nonvoting delegate in Congress, and Marion Barry would win multiple terms as a city councilman and as Washington, D.C.’s first elected black mayor. Other SNCC veterans would play important roles as campaign organizers and politicos, with many former SNCC members migrating to the nation’s capital in the seventies. In contrast, Carmichael for the rest of his life would remain a political outsider and an evangelist for anticapitalist revolution and Pan-African unity, even after many of the Third World left regimes that inspired such politics had long collapsed into dictatorship, civil war, and underdevelopment.

 

Waiting for Revolution

Parks’s 1967 photographs and text convey the impressive stamina of Carmichael and his movement comrades, and equally, the tremendous physical and psychological toll of their work. “In the four months that I traveled with him,” Parks recalled of Carmichael, “I marveled at his ability to adjust to any environment.”15 Carmichael was chameleon-like, shifting in ways to effectively connect and communicate with his audience: “Dressed in bib overalls, he tramped the backlands of Lowndes County, Alabama, urging Negroes, in a Southern-honey drawl, to register and vote. The next week, wearing a tight dark suit and Italian boots, he was in Harlem lining up ‘cats’ for the cause, using the language they dig most – hip and very cool. A fortnight later, jumping from campuses to intellectual salons, where he was equally damned and lionized, he spoke with eloquence and ease about his cause, quoting Sartre, Camus and Thoreau.”16

The Life magazine article depicts Carmichael in a moment when he is moving quickly from grounded political organizing within a powerful social movement to becoming an enduring symbol of black radicalism, though sadly lacking any real constituency. Mass media played a powerful role in amplifying, influencing, and, in part, undoing the black movements of the fifties and sixties. In the wake of Emmett Till’s murder in Money, Mississippi, in 1955, black journalists were crucial in building opposition to Jim Crow after the teen’s mother, Mamie Till, decided to hold an open-casket funeral so everyone could see what racist vigilantes had done to her son. Throughout the southern campaigns, television broadcasts and the images of well-dressed black marchers being bludgeoned by white police and attacked with dogs and firehoses helped shift public sentiment against the perpetuation of Jim Crow. And yet the same media coverage bore negative consequences, contributing to processes of leadership certification that proved divisive, antidemocratic, and careerist, by too often elevating more telegenic personalities, breeding internal tensions, and shifting priorities away from the grounded politics that had been so central to the movement’s successes.17 Parks clearly sought to cast a different light on Carmichael against the popular white anxieties conjured by the Black Power slogan.

The broader machinery of publicity, however, took its toll on Carmichael and the internal lives of movement organizations, heightening rivalries and fueling overinflated rhetoric and posturing that ran counter to building effective political power – the goal of any movement worthy of the name. Parks’s article captures some of these sharpening tensions within the nascent Black Power movement, when he discusses the friction between the US Organization and other black political formations in Los Angeles over providing security for Carmichael during his visit. The FBI and local police would aggravate existing cleavages within and between black groups like US and the Black Panther Party, instigating and inflaming conflicts that would ultimately destroy lives, optimism, and political momentum.

Carmichael spent the decades after the sixties touring the world and lecturing at universities and in community centers, unwavering in his commitment to revolutionary Pan-Africanism [a worldwide movement that aims to encourage and strengthen bonds of solidarity between all Indigenous and diaspora peoples of African ancestry]. I had a chance to meet him briefly during one of those stateside tours, in the fall of 1989, when I was a first-year student at Southern University-Baton Rouge, at the time the largest historically black college in the United States. Carmichael delivered an afternoon talk in Stewart Hall, which then housed the Junior Division, essentially a community college within the university that repaired the damage wrought by poorly funded public schools whence many of our students hailed. His Afro and goatee were graying, but his wide grin, quick wit, and gregarious manner recalled the youthful activist, his slim mod suit now replaced with a brocade dashiki. Since his exile, he had taken the name Kwame Ture, an homage to the anti-colonial revolutionaries Kwame Nkrumah and Sékou Touré. The room was only about half full, but that didn’t dissipate Carmichael’s energy. We matched his enthusiasm, laughing and shouting at various turns. Carmichael was in vogue again for our cohort, the sons and daughters of the civil rights generation now suffering the waning years of the Reagan-Bush administration. We were living through a prolonged period of urban implosion, the social chaos of the crack cocaine crisis, rising gun violence, and the ramped-up policing and imprisonment of black men – what we would later come to know as mass incarceration. We were drawn to the rhetorical style of Carmichael, Malcolm X, and the Panthers and the criticisms they leveled against white supremacy and the goal of racial integration still promoted by the old civil rights vanguard. Carmichael’s criticisms of capitalism resonated with us in a town where the smokestacks of petrochemical refineries dominated the skyline, their stench filling the North Baton Rouge air day and night. After the talk, I stood around with a handful of other students engaging Carmichael. He seemed to take all our questions, however errant they might have been, with seriousness. He didn’t appear bored or impatient, and he tarried with us for some time.

In his memoir Dreams from My Father, Barack Obama characterized Carmichael in disparaging terms after a similar collegiate encounter with him – “his eyes glowed inward as he spoke, the eyes of a madman or a saint.”18 As he ascended to national leadership, Obama often disassociated from black radicalism and socialist politics. Recall how he publicly rejected his one time pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the man who officiated at his wedding, once that association became a political liability on the campaign trail. It is not surprising that Carmichael’s damning criticism of American hypocrisy and empire rattled the young Obama. For those of us confined to underfunded and failing urban school districts and equally maligned black colleges, and angered by the bipartisan decimation of the welfare state, Carmichael’s words were like manna, affirming our sense that we were not failures, but that the society itself had failed to live up to its most basic promises.

Carmichael was neither madman nor saint. Since 1969 he was something more tragic – a revolutionary without a revolution. His decades-long exile estranged him from the very political constituencies responsible for his fame, and the world itself had changed dramatically in the same period. The defeat and collapse of socialist and progressive- left postcolonial regimes across Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia, the end of the Cold War, and limited but very real cultural and political changes hewn by the Second Reconstruction in the United States rendered his calls for revolutionary Pan-Africanism simultaneously alluring, overly nostalgic, and tragically out of step with the world we lived in. His criticisms still echoed loudly in the lecture hall but did not offer black laboring classes grappling with day-to-day existence under austerity and resurgent capitalist class power any legitimate, workable political alternative. What was needed then and now wasn’t so much the correct ideological line, a favorite diversion of the American left for decades, but rather a politics that returned to the beginning, to places like Lowndes County, where Carmichael once went house to house, patiently conversing with black sharecroppers about their needs and hopes, gaining their trust, and, in careful and protracted collaboration, building effective popular power.

Carmichael’s longtime friend Michael Thelwell, a SNCC veteran and novelist, provides a touching elegy, reminding us how even as his body was ravaged by cancer, Carmichael’s spirit burned ever brighter. In the waning days of his illness, after he had returned to Guinea for the last time, Carmichael was met with a steady stream of visitors, “humble folk and dignitaries alike,” Thelwell recalled.19 One such group included Mozambican amputees who had traveled to Conakry, prompting Thelwell to ask: What motive “could have brought simple farmers and old soldiers so great a distance?” They were, he came to understand, propelled by a deep sense of gratitude. When Carmichael learned of the horrible consequences of war and land mines wrought on these men and their communities, he appealed to the Cuban embassy, which responded with a supply of prosthetics.

Carmichael stands alongside King, Rustin, Liuzzo, Ella Baker, James Forman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, E. D. Nixon, and a broad pantheon of activists, martyrs, and forgotten figures who defeated Jim Crow and ushered unprecedented black political progress. Parks’s images and impressions of Carmichael should remind us of his historical significance, his limitations, virtues, and sacrifices, and the decisive role that mass political pressure has played in making concrete progressive advances in American society. And what role popular social movements must play again if we want to build on this progress and effectively abolish the myriad injustices in our midst.

Cedric Johnson. “Luminous Exposures: Gordon Parks, Stokely Carmichael, and the Birth of Black Politics,” in Volpe, Lisa. Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power. Steidl / The Gordon Parks Foundation / The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2022, p. 28-34

 

Footnotes

  1. Stokely Carmichael with Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) (New York: Scribner, 2005), 49.
  2. Samuel R. Delany, The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004), 85.
  3. Gordon Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” Life, May 19, 1967, 80.
  4. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 78.
  5. Gordon Parks, Voices in the Mirror: An Autobiography (New York: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 1990), 238.
  6. Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama’s Black Belt (New York: New York University, 2009).
  7. Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s (Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 1981), 206.
  8. Richard Wright, Black Power: A Record of Reactions in a Land of Pathos (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1954).
  9. Gordon Parks, “‘I Was a Zombie Then – Like All Muslims, I Was Hypnotized,'” Life, March 5, 1965, 30.
  10. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 82.
  11. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 82.
  12. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 82.
  13. Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton, Black Power: The Politics of Black Liberation in America (New York: Vintage Books, 1992 [1967]), 47.
  14. Kent B. Germany, New Orleans After the Promises: Poverty, Citizenship and the Search for the Great Society (Atlanta: University of Georgia, 2007); Adolph Reed, Jr., Stirrings in the Jug: Black Politics in the Post-segregation Era (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999).
  15. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 78.
  16. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 78.
  17. Todd Gitlin, The Whole World Is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980).
  18. Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (New York: Crown, 2004), 140.
  19. Carmichael with Thelwell, Ready for Revolution, 783.

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael before an appearance on KTTV, Los Angeles' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael before an appearance on KTTV, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam poster with photograph by Maury Englander 1967

 

National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam poster with photograph by Maury Englander
1967

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Martin Luther King, Jr., at Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, New York City' 1967, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Martin Luther King, Jr., at Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, New York City
1967, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael speaking at Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, New York City' 1967, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael speaking at Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, New York City
1967, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

"Whip of Black Power," Life Magazine Photographs and Text by Gordon Parks

"Whip of Black Power," Life Magazine Photographs and Text by Gordon Parks

 

“Whip of Black Power,” Life Magazine
Photographs and Text by Gordon Parks
Introduction by Life Editors, May 19, 1967

 

 

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10
Sep
22

Exhibition: ‘Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 19th July – 9th October 2022

Curators: Mazie Harris, assistant curator, J. Paul Getty Museum, in consultation with Sarah L. Eckhardt, associate curator, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

 

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944) 'Pensacola, Florida' 1966

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944)
Pensacola, Florida
1966
Gelatin silver print
22.5 × 34cm (8 7/8 × 13 3/8 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund
© Anthony Barboza

 

 

LIBERTY!

Even though I know the history of photography reasonably well(!) I had never heard of the Kamoinge Workshop (a collective of Black photographers formed in New York in 1963) before I started to assemble this posting. This “group of people acting together… produced powerful images, sensitively registering Black life in the mid-20th century.” Their work “reminds us of the power of both individual creativity and collective action.”

What is notable about the work of Kamoinge artists as evidenced by the vibrant, graphic photographs of high contrast and chiaroscuro presented here is the mainly abstract nature of their representation of Black life.

Through images such as Anthony Barboza’s broken liberty in Pensacola, Florida (1966) and fragmented Street Self-portrait (1970s), Adger Cowans’ distorted Three Shadows (1966), C. Daniel Dawson’s Backscape #1 (1967), Louis Draper’s Untitled (Swing and Shadow) (1967) and Boy and H, Harlem (1961), James Mannas’ desperate No Way Out, Harlem, NYC (1964) and Peeping Sea Wall Beach Boy, Georgetown, Guyana (1972), Herbert Randall’s melancholy Untitled (Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Freedom Summer) (1964), Herb Robinson’s Brother and Sister (1973) and Central Park, Kids (1961), Beuford Smith’s, hanging, Boy on Swing, Lower East Side (1970), Ming Smith’s decaying Untitled (Harlem, NY) (c. 1973) and Shawn Walker’s barricaded Harlem, 117th Street (c. 1960) … the viewer can begin to picture, begin to feel and empathise with – the life of displacement and deprivation, poverty and protest, strength and joy – that was at the centre of Black experiences. The work of the Kamoinge artists offered “an alternative to the mainstream media of the time, which often overlooked Black culture or portrayed it negatively.”

“Through careful cropping, framing, and printing techniques, Kamoinge artists defamiliarised everyday sights such as puddles and clouds, asphalt, and weathered walls. Their images encourage greater attention to commonplace subjects – the reflective glass of shop windows, worn advertisements on city streets, a dirtied pile of salt – that might otherwise be overlooked. Much of their work with shadows and reflections centers Black bodies seeking a place for themselves amid the ebb and flow of daily life.” (Exhibition text)

For me what is so important about this group of artists (or any individual or group of people that represent through art: difference, diversity and the fight for equality and liberty) is that they represent themselves and historically archive their continuing struggle against oppression – so that, as the definition of the word “liberty” states – we can all attain “the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behaviour, or political views.”

Usually the fight comes not from the top down, but from the grass roots up… from community, from culture and how these begin to influence wider social attitudes and prejudices. Fighting against any injustice, whether it be racism, sexism, ism ism ism, is a fight against ignorance and bigotry. It is a fight against people being unaware of what is going on, what affect their actions have on others, it is a fight against misinformation and misrepresentation, and it is a fight against power residing in the hands of the few. As such, the photographs of the Kamoinge Workshop artists are a vital reflection on the process of change and acceptance, of progress (or the lack of it) and the constant need to be vigilant, to keep fighting against any force that seeks to subjugate us. Their photographs heighten our aesthetic awareness, one of the defining qualities of being human, connecting us to our ability to reflect on and appreciate the world around us in all its mysterious spirit and joyful difference.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the J. Paul Getty Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

This is the first major exhibition about the Kamoinge Workshop, a collective of Black photographers formed in New York in 1963. Members of the group produced powerful images, sensitively registering Black life in the mid-20th century. The exhibition explores Kamoinge’s photographic artistry in the 1960s and 1970s, celebrating the group’s collaborative ethos, commitment to community, and centering of Black experiences.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop' at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Installation view of the exhibition Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles showing at centre, the work of Louis Draper.

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944) 'Kamoinge Members' 1973, printed 2019

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944)
Kamoinge Members
1973, printed 2019
Inkjet print
45.7 × 50.8cm (18 × 20 in)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Eric and Jeanette Lipman Fund
© Anthony Barboza

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944) 'Editors Working on the First Volume of The Black Photographers Annual' 1973

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944)
Editors Working on the First Volume of The Black Photographers Annual
1973
Pictured: Beuford Smith, Joe Crawford, Ray Francis
Gelatin silver print
12.1 × 17.9cm (4 3/4 × 7 1/16 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund
© Anthony Barboza

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944) '1st Annual International Black Photographers Dinner Honoring Roy DeCarava and James Van Der Zee, NYC' 1979

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944)
1st Annual International Black Photographers Dinner Honoring Roy DeCarava and James Van Der Zee, NYC
1979
Gelatin silver print
18.9 × 24.9cm (7 7/16 × 9 13/16 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Anthony Barboza

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944) 'Easter Sunday in Harlem' 1974

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944)
Easter Sunday in Harlem
1974
Gelatin silver print
15.4 x 22.6cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944) 'Street Self-portrait' 1970s

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944)
Street Self-portrait
1970s
Gelatin silver print
19.9 x 15.1cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

In 1963 a group of Black photographers based in New York formed the Kamoinge Workshop.

Committed to photography’s power as an art form, Kamoinge members depicted Black life as they saw and experienced it. They hoped to offer an alternative to the mainstream media of the time, which often overlooked Black culture or portrayed it negatively.

Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop, on view at the Getty Museum at the Getty Center July 19 – October 9, is the first major retrospective presenting photographs from the collective during the 1960s and 1970s. Highlighting each photographer’s individual artistry as well as the Workshop’s shared concerns, this exhibition celebrates the group’s self-organising, commitment to community, and centering of Black experiences.

“The work in this exhibition highlights Black Americans behind and in front of the camera. The Museum regularly features individual artists in monographic exhibitions, but it is important also to document and celebrate the importance of collaborative groups such as the Kamoinge Workshop,” says Timothy Potts, Maria Hummer-Tuttle and Robert Tuttle Director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “Working Together reflects Getty’s continuing efforts to diversify our collection, and thereby represent a more expansive history of photography. To that end, several of the works shown in the exhibition were recently acquired for the Museum’s collection.”

Within their first year as a group, the members of the Kamoinge Workshop (pronounced “kuh-moyn-gay” by the members of the group) made a commitment to portray the communities around them. They chose the name – which means “a group of people acting together” in the Kikuyu language of Kenya – to reflect the collective model they wished to follow as well as their interest in Black communities not just at home but also outside the United States.

The exhibition will focus on the first two decades of the collective, from the founding of the group in 1963 through the various activities of the International Black Photographers association in the early 1980s, and includes photographs by 15 of the organisation’s early members. The artists included in the exhibition are Anthony Barboza, Adger Cowans, Daniel Dawson, Louis Draper, Al Fennar, Ray Francis, Herman Howard, Jimmie Mannas, Herb Randall, Herb Robinson, Beuford Smith, Ming Smith, Shawn Walker, and Calvin Wilson. Also included are several photographs by Roy DeCarava, the first director of the Workshop.

Images in the exhibition capture the experience of urban life at mid-century, the civil rights movement, intimate portraiture, experimental abstraction, jazz musicians, and the Black experience abroad. Though the photographers included in the exhibition produced diverse bodies of work, many of their photographs are printed with dark tones that compellingly evoke the unsettling era in which they were made.

“The Kamoinge vision remains resonant today,” notes Mazie Harris, curator of the installation of Working Together in the Getty Museum’s Center for Photographs. “The photographs in this exhibition offer a glimpse into the artistry and ambition of the workshop members, reminding us of the power of both individual creativity and collective action.”

Working Together: The Photographs of the Kamoinge Workshop is organised by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and curated by Mazie Harris, assistant curator, J. Paul Getty Museum, in consultation with Sarah L. Eckhardt, associate curator, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum

 

Adger Cowans (American, b. 1936) 'Three Shadows' 1966, printed 1968

 

Adger Cowans (American, b. 1936)
Three Shadows
1966, printed 1968
Gelatin silver print
26.6 × 15.7cm (10 1/2 × 6 3/16 in.)
Getty Museum
© Adger Cowans, courtesy Bruce Silverstein Gallery

 

Adger Cowans (American, b. 1936) 'Footsteps' 1960

 

Adger Cowans (American, b. 1936)
Footsteps
1960
Gelatin silver print
21 × 33.8cm (8 1/4 × 13 5/16 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond.
Aldine S. Hartman Endowment Fund
© Adger Cowans

 

C. Daniel Dawson (American, b. 1943) 'Backscape #1' 1967

 

C. Daniel Dawson (American, b. 1943)
Backscape #1
1967
Gelatin silver print
15.2 × 22.9cm (6 × 9 in.)
Collection of C. Daniel Dawson
© C. Daniel Dawson

 

C. Daniel Dawson (American, b. 1943) 'Olaifa and Egypt' 1978

 

C. Daniel Dawson (American, b. 1943)
Olaifa and Egypt
1978
Gelatin silver print
16.5 × 24.1cm (6 1/2 × 9 1/2 in.)
Collection of C. Daniel Dawson
© C. Daniel Dawson

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002) 'Fannie Lou Hamer' 1971

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002)
Fannie Lou Hamer
1971
Gelatin silver print
18.1 × 13.3cm (7 1/8 × 5 1/4 in.)
Getty Museum
© Louis H. Draper Preservation Trust, courtesy Bruce Silverstein Gallery

 

 

Fannie Lou Hamer (née Townsend; October 6, 1917 – March 14, 1977) was an American voting and women’s rights activist, community organiser, and a leader in the civil rights movement. She was the co-founder and vice-chair of the Freedom Democratic Party, which she represented at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Hamer also organised Mississippi’s Freedom Summer along with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She was also a co-founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus, an organisation created to recruit, train, and support women of all races who wish to seek election to government office.

Hamer began civil rights activism in 1962, continuing until her health declined nine years later. She was known for her use of spiritual hymnals and quotes and her resilience in leading the civil rights movement for black women in Mississippi. She was extorted, threatened, harassed, shot at, and assaulted by racists, including members of the police, while trying to register for and exercise her right to vote. She later helped and encouraged thousands of African-Americans in Mississippi to become registered voters and helped hundreds of disenfranchised people in her area through her work in programs like the Freedom Farm Cooperative. She unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 1964 and the Mississippi State Senate in 1971. In 1970, she led legal action against the government of Sunflower County, Mississippi for continued illegal segregation.

Hamer died on March 14, 1977, aged 59, in Mound Bayou, Mississippi. Her memorial service was widely attended and her eulogy was delivered by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young. She was posthumously inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002) 'Congressional Gathering' 1959, printed later

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002)
Congressional Gathering
1959, printed later
Gelatin silver print
23.4 × 16.9 cm (9 3/16 × 6 5/8 in.)
Getty Museum
© Louis H. Draper Preservation Trust, courtesy Bruce Silverstein Gallery

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002) 'Untitled (Swing and Shadow)' 1967

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002)
Untitled (Swing and Shadow)
1967
Gelatin silver print
22.9 × 15.2cm (9 × 6 in.)
Getty Museum
© Louis H. Draper Preservation Trust, courtesy Bruce Silverstein Gallery

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002) 'Untitled (Billy)' About 1966-1972

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002)
Untitled (Billy)
About 1966-1972
Gelatin silver print
24.1 × 33.3cm (9 1/2 × 13 1/8 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Courtesy of the Louis H. Draper Preservation Trust, Nell D. Winston, Trustee

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002) 'Boy and H, Harlem' 1961

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002)
Boy and H, Harlem
1961
Gelatin silver print
21.3 × 32.2 cm (8 3/8 × 12 11/16 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Courtesy of the Louis H. Draper Preservation Trust, Nell D. Winston, Trustee

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002) 'Untitled' 1960s

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002)
Untitled
1960s
Gelatin silver print
23.3 × 17.3cm (9 3/16 × 6 13/16 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Courtesy of the Louis H. Draper Preservation Trust, Nell D. Winston, Trustee

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002) 'Reward MLK Poster, New York' 1971

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002)
Reward MLK Poster, New York
1971
Gelatin silver print
18.1 x 13.3cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Community

The Kamoinge Workshop began as a community of photographers who supported and encouraged one another. Within their first year, they also made a commitment to portray the communities around them. They introduced one of their early projects by explaining, “The Kamoinge Workshop represents black photographers whose creative objectives reflect a concern for truth about the world, about the Society, and about themselves.” Years later, member Louis Draper expanded: “Cognizant of the forces for change revolving around Kamoinge, we dedicated ourselves to speak of our lives as only we can. This was our story to tell and we set out to create the kind of images of our communities that spoke of the truth we’d witnessed, and that countered the untruths we’d all seen in mainline publications.”

 

Mentorship

Kamoinge members taught photography in programs across New York City, from Brooklyn and Harlem to the Bronx, equipping a younger generation with the technical and philosophical knowledge they needed to portray their communities. Louis Draper noted that they were eager for “a sense of purpose other than individual acclaim; we wanted to serve.” In the late 1960s, Draper and Daniel Dawson taught a photography course for teens every summer, and Draper led a youth mentorship program in the Bronx. The photographs in this section of the exhibition document some of their students.

 

Civil Rights

Although most Kamoinge members resisted being labeled civil rights photographers – a term they felt conjured images of firehoses and attack dogs – oral and written histories of the group emphasise that the collective formed in the midst of the civil rights movement. As Louis Draper described: “Many of the group had been a part of the March on Washington with Reverend King. Others had witnessed southern law brutality brought on by voting rights activity and sit-in demonstrations. Within a year’s time, these same volatile forces would propel many of us into engaged and enraged resistance.” Part of their resistance was to make images of Black Americans that were absent from the national conversation. Some members photographed leading figures and pivotal events of the civil rights movement but not necessarily to provide a journalistic record. Many created images reflected the theme of civil rights on a symbolic level instead.

 

“Like Jazz”

Music played an enormous role in the art of the Kamoinge Workshop. Jazz was a near-constant soundtrack for the group’s meetings, and musicians and live performances were the subjects of many of their photographs. Jazz also served as a metaphor for photography itself. Rhythm, timing, and improvisation are key elements in street photography as well as experimental abstraction. Innovative musicians such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane inspired Kamoinge artists, as did attending rehearsals and performances by figures as diverse as Mahalia Jackson and Sun Ra. These musicians moved the photographers to experiment and above all to hone their craft. Ming Smith characterised photography as “making something out of nothing,” adding, “I think that’s like jazz.”

 

A Global Perspective

A significant factor leading to the formation of the Kamoinge Workshop was, as Louis Draper put it, “the emerging African consciousness exploding within us.” Even before most of the members began traveling internationally, their choice of a name from the Kikuyu people of Kenya emphasised their interest in Black experiences outside the United States. Kenya, which gained independence from colonial rule in 1963, the same year Kamoinge was founded, was frequently in the press during the group’s earliest meetings. The decolonisation movement swept across the African continent from the mid-1950s through the 1960s, the same years that the US civil rights movement intensified. Many Kamoinge members traveled to African countries that had recently gained independence, and also to regions with significant diasporic communities. Some worked outside the United States on film projects or on assignments for magazines and in their off-hours made time for their own art. These travels expanded their sense of belonging to a global Black fellowship, however widely dispersed.

 

Shadows, Reflections, and Abstractions

Kamoinge has often been associated with street photography, but abstraction was also a crucial part of their work. By the time they joined the group, Louis Draper, Al Fennar, and Adger Cowans were already making abstract images in addition to more recognisably documentary pictures. In the late 1960s and into the early 1970s, many of the other members began to follow suit. Workshop photographers pushed themselves and the medium by experimenting with new forms and ideas. Through careful cropping, framing, and printing techniques, Kamoinge artists defamiliarised everyday sights such as puddles and clouds, asphalt, and weathered walls. Their images encourage greater attention to commonplace subjects – the reflective glass of shop windows, worn advertisements on city streets, a dirtied pile of salt – that might otherwise be overlooked. Much of their work with shadows and reflections centers Black bodies seeking a place for themselves amid the ebb and flow of daily life.

 

Kamoinge’s Legacy

Kamoinge Workshop members supported not just one another but also the broader community of Black photographers. In 1973 Beuford Smith founded the Black Photographers Annual, a publication that helped bring attention to artists outside the Kamoinge circle. In 1978, other members started a group called International Black Photographers, which honoured the work of photography elders and encouraged younger generations. Neither endeavour was part of the workshop’s official activities, but each grew out of the members’ ambition to serve and promote Black artists. Following their exhibitions in the mid-1970s, the Kamoinge Workshop neither organised exhibitions nor produced publications again until the mid-1990s. The group never disbanded, however, and the members remained close. They resumed formal meetings in 1992, applied for nonprofit status, and renamed themselves Kamoinge, Inc. A subsequent influx of new members energised the group as they continued the work that began in 1963.

Exhibition texts adapted from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts publication Working Together: Louis Draper and the Kamoinge Workshop published as “Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop” on the J. Paul Getty Museum website [Online] Cited 31/08/2022

 

Albert Fennar (American, 1938-2018) 'Salt Pile' 1971

 

Albert Fennar (American, 1938-2018)
Salt Pile
1971
Gelatin silver print
Framed [outer dim]: 52.1 × 41.9cm (20 1/2 × 16 1/2 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Gift of Mrs. Alfred duPont, by exchange
© Miya Fennar and the Albert R. Fennar Archive

 

Albert Fennar (American, 1938-2018) 'Sphere' 1974

 

Albert Fennar (American, 1938-2018)
Sphere
1974
Gelatin silver print
Framed [outer dim]: 52.1 × 41.9cm (20 1/2 × 16 1/2 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Gift of Mrs. Alfred duPont, by exchange
© Miya Fennar and The Albert R. Fennar Archive

 

Herman Howard (American, 1942-1980) 'March on Washington' 1963

 

Herman Howard (American, 1942-1980)
March on Washington
1963
Gelatin silver print
14.8 × 23.8cm (5 13/16 × 9 3/8 in.)
Collection of Herb Robinson
Digital image courtesy Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

 

Herman Howard (American, 1942-1980) 'New York' 1960s

 

Herman Howard (American, 1942-1980)
New York
1960s
Gelatin silver print 16 × 23.3cm (6 5/16 × 9 3/16 in.)
Collection of Herb Robinson
Digital image courtesy Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

 

James Mannas (American, b. 1941) 'No Way Out, Harlem, NYC' 1964

 

James Mannas (American, b. 1941)
No Way Out, Harlem, NYC
1964
Gelatin silver print
22.7 × 16.2cm (8 15/16 × 6 3/8 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© James Mannas

 

James Mannas (American, b. 1941) 'Peeping Sea Wall Beach Boy, Georgetown, Guyana' 1972

 

James Mannas (American, b. 1941)
Peeping Sea Wall Beach Boy, Georgetown, Guyana
1972
Gelatin silver print
23.8 × 15.9cm (9 3/8 × 6 1/4 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© James Mannas

 

Herbert Randall (American, born 1936) 'Untitled (Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Freedom Summer)' 1964

 

Herbert Randall (American, born 1936)
Untitled (Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Freedom Summer)
1964
Gelatin silver print
34.3 × 22.9cm (13 1/2 × 9 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Herbert Randall

 

Herbert Randall (American, born 1936) 'Untitled (Bed-Stuy, New York)' 1960s

 

Herbert Randall (American, born 1936)
Untitled (Bed-Stuy, New York)
1960s
Gelatin silver print
33.7 × 23.3cm (13 1/4 × 9 3/16 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Herbert Randall

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s) 'Miles Davis at the Vanguard' 1961, printed later

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s)
Miles Davis at the Vanguard
1961, printed later
Gelatin silver print
35.3 × 25cm (13 7/8 × 9 13/16 in.)
Getty Museum
© Herb Robinson, courtesy Bruce Silverstein Gallery

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s) 'Brother and Sister' 1973

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s)
Brother and Sister
1973
Gelatin silver print
16.5 × 22.9cm (6 1/2 × 9 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Herb Robinson

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s) 'Central Park, Kids' 1961

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s)
Central Park, Kids
1961
Gelatin silver print
33.8 × 23.5cm (13 5/16 × 9 1/4 in.)
Collection of Herb Robinson
© Herb Robinson

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s) 'The Girls' 1969

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s)
The Girls
1969
Gelatin silver print
8.6 × 21.3cm (3 3/8 × 8 3/8 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Herb Robinson

 

Beuford Smith (American, b. 1941) 'Two Bass Hit, Lower East Side' 1972

 

Beuford Smith (American, b. 1941)
Two Bass Hit, Lower East Side
1972
Gelatin silver print
23.8 × 34.3cm (9 3/8 × 13 1/2 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Beuford Smith/Césaire

 

Beuford Smith (American, b. 1941) 'Boy on Swing, Lower East Side' 1970

 

Beuford Smith (American, b. 1941)
Boy on Swing, Lower East Side
1970
Gelatin silver print
17.3 × 25.1cm (6 13/16 × 9 7/8 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Beuford Smith

 

 

Interviews with Kamoinge Artists

Interviewed by video during the pandemic, Kamoinge artists reflect on their experience with the group and the ongoing significance of their work together.

Video includes subtitles/closed captions in English and Spanish. Footage courtesy of the artists and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Adapted by the J. Paul Getty Museum

 

Ming Smith (American, active since 1970s) 'America Seen through Stars and Stripes, New York City, New York' About 1976

 

Ming Smith (American, active since 1970s)
America Seen through Stars and Stripes, New York City, New York
About 1976
Gelatin silver print
31.8 × 47cm (12 1/2 × 18 1/2 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund
© Ming Smith

 

Ming Smith (American, active since 1970s) 'Untitled (Harlem, NY)' About 1973

 

Ming Smith (American, active since 1970s)
Untitled (Harlem, NY)
About 1973
Gelatin silver print
31.8 × 22.2cm (12 1/2 × 8 3/4 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund
© Ming Smith

 

Ming Smith (American, active since 1970s) 'Love Barber Shop Jazz, Pittsburgh, PA' 1992

 

Ming Smith (American, active since 1970s)
Love Barber Shop Jazz, Pittsburgh, PA
1992
Gelatin silver print
46.2 x 31.8cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council
© Ming Smith

 

Shawn Walker (American, b. 1940) 'Harlem, 117th Street' About 1960

 

Shawn Walker (American, b. 1940)
Harlem, 117th Street
About 1960
Gelatin silver print
18.4 × 12.7cm (7 1/4 × 5 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Aldine S. Hartman Endowment Fund
© Shawn Walker PhotoArts Studio

 

Shawn Walker (American, b. 1940) 'Family on Easter, Harlem, NY' 1975

 

Shawn Walker (American, b. 1940)
Family on Easter, Harlem, NY
1975
Gelatin silver print
11 × 15.9cm (4 5/16 × 6 1/4 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Kathleen Boone Samuels Memorial Fund
© Shawn Walker

 

Shawn Walker (American, b. 1940) 'Women in the Field, Cuba' 1968

 

Shawn Walker (American, b. 1940)
Women in the Field, Cuba
1968
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Shawn Walker

 

 

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09
May
14

Exhibition: ‘Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video’ at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Exhibition dates: 24th January – 14th May 2014

 

Installation view: 'Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video', Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, January 24-May 14, 2014

 

Installation view: Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, January 24-May 14, 2014
Photo: David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.

 

 

A busy time with postings on the archive over the next week with a lot of exhibitions finishing on the 18th May 2014. The posting about this artist is one of the best of them. I have been wanting to show this artist on this site since it started, nearly 6 years ago. Finally, I get my chance!

 

I ask the question:

Who are the interesting photographers anywhere who are alive now?

That is – by looking at the ideas that are present in poetry, music, philosophy or even politics – who is there that is truly taking these ideas forward (or ideas that are as interesting). Or, who is arranging images with the elegance of a Sommer or an Atget or the dynamics of Arbus.

In other words whose acts am I hanging upon, so that I am waiting with great anticipation to see what they are going to do next?

Which living photographers would I walk over broken glass to see their work? = some

If I was being essential (and if you were walking over glass you would be), the list would be very short:

Carrie Mae Weems and Wolfgang Tillmans.

 

What both these image makers – for they are not photographers in the traditional sense – do, is problematise and reconfigure narration and visualisation in the conceptualisation of subject. Tillmans experiments with a sensory experiential backdrop against and within which the photographs are produced. Modes of perception and the regimes of emotion are inducted into the aesthetics of production and meaning so that, “the pictures communicate with each other in a way that is not bound to the pattern of a closed narrative or any particular line of argument.” The mobilisation and reversal of value and meaning are central strategies in Tillmans’ praxis, where realistic and abstract elements are never intentionally separated from each other, and where the physicality and space of the photographs is also acknowledged in the installation of the work.

A similar sensory experience can be observed in the work of Carrie Mae Weems, only this artist invites contemplation of issues surrounding race, gender, and class inequality – bringing to light the voices of marginalised and oppressed people and histories – through a multidimensional picture of history and humanity, intended to spur greater cultural awareness and compassion. As the press release observes, “Although her subjects are often African American, Weems wants “people of color to stand for the human multitudes” and for her art to resonate with audiences of all backgrounds… Weems often appropriates words and images, re-presenting them to viewers as biting reminders of the persistence of bigoted attitudes in the United States.”

This is the power of both artists work, the creation of open ended narratives, multidimensional pictures of history and humanity which allows the viewer to create a space beyond the art works.

Using ekphrasis – the structuring patterns of language, in Weems’ case emphasising the role of both spoken and written narrative – to vividly represent a wide range of perceptual experiences, she creates a complementary space outside of the art work in the reader’s mind. The author creates links, “designating the paths along which the reader may travel, and thus, in a much freer manner than modernist authors, structures the network of allusions, parallelisms, and juxtapositions that contribute to the sense of textual space.”1 This allows the viewer to create a language of personal associations and engages in them an autonomy of experience, one encouraged by the products, the texts and images that these authors create.

These thoughts come to mind. Some things we interpret and then remember that interpretation, but we are no longer involved in the actual act of interpretation — and there are other, probably fewer things that continue to involve us — where we never finish the first way of looking at them, we are always coming to them and not arriving. Unfortunately, I find a lot of things in the first group, and as much as theoreticians try to inspire me to re-interpret, the work they have done often only works as an adjunct to something that has settled.

The art of Weems and Tillmans resides, lives and breathes of the second category, for we can never be sure of the pattern of narrative, the form of aesthetic and thematic interaction and the specificity of the marginalised histories they examine. These histories apply to all of us.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Tolva, John. Ut Pictura Hyperpoesis: Spatial Form, Visuality, and the Digital World,” in HYPERTEXT ’96 Proceedings of the the seventh ACM conference on Hypertext, 1996, p. 71.

.
Many thankx to The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“Over the past thirty years, Carrie Mae Weems has yearned to insert marginalized peoples into the historical record. She does this not only to bring ignored or erased experiences to light but to provide a more multidimensional picture of humanity as a whole, a picture that ultimately will spur greater awareness and compassion. Weems believes deeply that “my responsibility as an artist is to … make art. beautiful and powerful, that adds and reveals; to beautify the mess of a messy world, to heal the sick and feed the helpless; to shout bravely from the roof-tops and storm barricaded doors and voice the specifics of our historic moment.””

.
Carrie Mae Weems quoted in Kathryn E. Delmez. “Introduction,” from Kathryn E. Delmez (ed.,). Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video. Yale University Press 2012, p. 1.

 

“Weems [work] exist at the intersection of photography and race, image and text.”

.
John Pultz

 

“Belying the myth that conceptual artists disdain the old-fashioned notion of aesthetics, Weems has long been consumed and galvanized by the idea of beauty. The notion of beauty encompasses and reaches beyond aesthetics. It is not a simple concept, as often there are unspoken political implications in her use. Beauty is a powerful adjective in her hands and an important tool in her work. Her work is always about beauty and purposely so. She seduces the viewer through the very process of creating luscious prints, or beautiful images, without ever using beauty purely to seduce. But no matter what one encounters within the text or within one’s own revelations about what the texts ultimately say, the religion of beauty always undergirds Weem’s vision and informs her work.”

.
Thelma Golden. “Some Thoughts on Carrie Mae Weems,” in Golden, T. and Piché Jr., T. Carrie Mae Weems: Recent Work, 1992-1998. New York: George Braziller, 1998, p. 32 quoted in Deborah Willis. “Photographing between the Lines: Beauty, Politics, and the Poetic Vision of Carrie Mae Weems,” in Kathryn E. Delmez (ed.,). Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video. Yale University Press 2012, p. 33.

 

 

Installation view: 'Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video', Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, January 24-May 14, 2014

Installation view: 'Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video', Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, January 24-May 14, 2014

Installation view: 'Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video', Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, January 24-May 14, 2014

Installation view: 'Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video', Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, January 24-May 14, 2014

Installation view: 'Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video', Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, January 24-May 14, 2014

 

Installation views: Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, January 24-May 14, 2014
Photos: David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.

 

 

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum presents Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video, the first major New York museum retrospective devoted to this socially motivated artist. Weems has long been acclaimed as one of the most eloquent and respected interpreters of African American experiences, and she continues to be an important influence for many young artists today. Featuring more than 120 works – primarily photographs, but also texts, videos, and an audio recording – as well as a range of related educational programs, this comprehensive survey offers an opportunity to experience the full breadth of the artist’s oeuvre and gain new insight into her practice.

Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video is organised by the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, Tennessee. The exhibition has been curated by Kathryn Delmez, the Frist Center, where it opened in September 2012. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum presentation is organised by Jennifer Blessing, Senior Curator, Photography, with Susan Thompson, Assistant Curator. This exhibition is supported in part by The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. The Leadership Committee for Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video is also gratefully acknowledged for its support, including Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, Robert Menschel Vital Projects, and Jack Shainman Gallery, as well as Henry Buhl, Crystal R. McCrary and Raymond J. McGuire, Beth Rudin DeWoody, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Toby Devan Lewis, Louise and Gerald W. Puschel, and Miyoung Lee and Neil Simpkins. Additional funding is provided by the William Talbott Hillman Foundation and the New York State Council on the Arts.

The work of Carrie Mae Weems (b. 1953, Portland, Oregon) invites contemplation of issues surrounding race, gender, and class inequality. Over the past thirty years, Weems has used her art to bring to light the ignored or erased experiences of marginalised people. Her work proposes a multidimensional picture of history and humanity, intended to spur greater cultural awareness and compassion. Although her subjects are often African American, Weems wants “people of colour to stand for the human multitudes” and for her art to resonate with audiences of all backgrounds.

Organised in a loosely chronological order throughout two of the museum’s Annex Levels, the exhibition begins on Level 2 with the series Family Pictures and Stories (1978-1984). This series, like many of Weems’s early works, explores matters relating to contemporary black identity, highlighting individuals in social contexts – including in this case her own kin. Her landmark Kitchen Table Series (1990) employs text and photography to explore the range of women’s roles within a community, pointedly situating the photographs’ subject within a domestic setting. Selections from Weems’s Sea Islands Series (1991-1992), Africa (1993), and Slave Coast (1993) demonstrate her ongoing interest in language and storytelling. These works, made during the artist’s travels to the titular locales, pair images with evocative vernacular texts or etymological investigations that trace English words to African roots. The artist’s practice emphasises the role of both spoken and written narrative, reflecting her graduate studies in folklore.

Weems often appropriates words and images, re-presenting them to viewers as biting reminders of the persistence of bigoted attitudes in the United States. Her renowned series From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried (1995-1996), presented on Annex Level 4, layers new text over found historical imagery to critique and lament prejudiced attitudes toward African Americans throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. A yearning to investigate the underlying causes and effects of racism, slavery, and imperialism has spurred Weems to travel widely throughout the United States, Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean. During extended visits to these places, depicted in series such as Dreaming in Cuba (2002), The Louisiana Project (2003), and Roaming (2006), all represented in the exhibition, she looks to the surrounding land and architecture in order to foster communion with inhabitants past and present.

Video is a natural extension of Weems’s narrative photographic practice, also providing an opportunity for the artist to include music in her work. Although she worked in film during her undergraduate years at the California Institute of the Arts, Weems’s first major endeavour in the medium came in 2003-2004 with Coming Up for Air, a work comprised of series of poetic vignettes that will be screened in the New Media Theater in the Guggenheim’s Sackler Center for Arts Education. Other video works, including Italian Dreams (2006), Afro Chic (2009), and Constructing History: A Requiem to Mark the Moment (2008) will be integrated into the exhibition near related photographs.

Press release from The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum website

 

Carrie Mae Weems. 'Blue Black Boy (from 'Colored People')' 1989-90

 

Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953)
Blue Black Boy (from Colored People)
1989-90
Triptych, three toned gelatin silver prints with Prestype and frame
16 x 48 inches (40.6 x 121.9cm) overall
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Purchase, with funds from the Photography Committee
© Carrie Mae Weems

 

Carrie Mae Weems. 'An Anthropological Debate' (from 'From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried') 1995-96

 

Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953)
An Anthropological Debate (from From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried)
1995-96
Chromogenic print with etched text on glass
26 1/2 x 22 3/4 inches (67.3 x 57.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift on behalf of The Friends of Education of the Museum of Modern Art
From an original daguerreotype taken by J.T. Zealy, 1850. Peabody Museum, Harvard University.Copyright President & Fellows of Harvard College, 1977. All rights reserved.
Photo: © 2012, MoMA, NY

 

Carrie Mae Weems. 'Afro-Chic' 2010

 

Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953)
Afro-Chic
2010
Digital colour video, with sound, 5 min., 30 sec.
Collection of the artist, courtesy Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
© Carrie Mae Weems

 

Carrie Mae Weems. 'Family Reunion' (from 'Family Pictures and Stories') 1978-84

 

Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953)
Family Reunion (from Family Pictures and Stories)
1978-1984
Gelatin silver print
30 x 40 inches (76.2 x 101.6cm)
Collection of the artist, courtesy Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
© Carrie Mae Weems

 

Carrie Mae Weems. 'Untitled (Man and mirror)' (from 'Kitchen Table Series') 1990

 

Carrie Mae Weems
Untitled (Man and mirror) (from Kitchen Table Series)
1990
Gelatin silver print
27 1/4 x 27 1/4 inches (69.2 x 69.2 cm)
Collection of Eric and Liz Lefkofsky, Promised gift to The Art Institute of Chicago
© Carrie Mae Weems
Photo: © The Art Institute of Chicago

 

Carrie Mae Weems. 'Untitled (Woman and daughter with makeup)' (from 'Kitchen Table Series') 1990

 

Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953)
Untitled (Woman and daughter with makeup) (from Kitchen Table Series)
1990
Gelatin silver print
27 1/4 x 27 1/4 inches (69.2 x 69.2cm)
Collection of Eric and Liz Lefkofsky, Promised gift to The Art Institute of Chicago
© Carrie Mae Weems
Photo: © The Art Institute of Chicago

 

Carrie Mae Weems. 'A Broad and Expansive Sky - Ancient Rome' (from 'Roaming') 2006

 

Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953)
A Broad and Expansive Sky – Ancient Rome (from Roaming)
2006
Chromogenic print
73 x 61 inches (185.4 x 154.9cm)
Private collection, Portland, Oregon
© Carrie Mae Weems

 

Carrie Mae Weems. 'Listening for the Sounds of Revolution' (from 'Dreaming in Cuba') 2002

 

Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953)
Listening for the Sounds of Revolution (from Dreaming in Cuba)
2002
Gelatin silver print
28 1/2 x 28 1/2 inches (72.4 x 72.4cm)
Collection of the artist, courtesy Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
© Carrie Mae Weems

Carrie Mae Weems. 'Untitled (Box Spring in Tree)' (from 'Sea Islands Series') 1991-92

Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953)
Untitled (Box Spring in Tree) (from Sea Islands Series)
1991-1992
Gelatin silver print
20 x 20 inches (50.8 x 50.8cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Gift of Carrie Mae Weems and P•P•O•W, 97.97.1
© Carrie Mae Weems
Photo: Robert Gerhardt

 

Carrie Mae Weems. 'Untitled (Colored People Grid)' 2009-10

 

Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953)
Untitled (Colored People Grid)
2009-2010
11 inkjet prints and 31 coloured clay papers
Dimensions variable overall; individual components: 10 x 10 inches (25.4 x 25.4cm) each
Collection of Rodney M. Miller
© Carrie Mae Weems

 

 

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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