Friday, June 23, 2017

The Black Photographers Annual at the Virginia Musuem of Fine Arts

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has a show up now through October 3rd, 2017 in their Photography Gallery featuring work by black photographers made during the 1970's.

This show is entitled A Commitment to the Community: The Black Photographers Annual.  
The photographs in this show were first published in the issue of the Black Photographers Annual for 1973.

Subsequent shows will feature work from each of the other three issues of the Black Photographers Annual, a publication that appeared four times between 1973 and 1980. 

All this work deserves vastly more attention than it receives these days.

But the shows at the VMFA will help. Already, the VMFA has digitized all four of the Black Photographers Annuals, and has them available for us to see on their website, go here.

The Black Photographers Annual was published by the folks at Kamoinge, or the Kamoinge Workshop, an organization of African-American photographers formed in New York City in 1963 with the purpose of "providing crucial support and solidarity" for African-American photographers who sought "artistic equality within the industry of photography."

Kamoinge is still very much alive today, see their website here.

Kamoinge gained "the attention of museums, universities, libraries, and galleries, by encouraging and enabling the exhibition of works by photographers of color for the first time." 

Publication of the Black Photographers Annual was part of fulfilling that mission. 

The first issue, published with an introductory essay by Toni Morrison, contained the work of forty-nine artists, including Louis Draper (see image at the top of this blog post) and Bill Jackson (see image directly above), made in Greenwood, Mississippi.

Later issues continued the original format of combining a group show of work by a wide range of artists together with in-depth portfolios of a much smaller selection of photographers. 

Photographers in the 4 volumes of the Black Photographers Album include names that would become familiar to us, like Gordon Parks and Dawoud Bey, but also the work of photographers far less well know, but altogether richly deserving of our attention.

Work included in these four albums ranges from iconic images, such as Moneta Sleet's photograph of Coretta Scott King at her husband's funeral (see image above), to street photographs, to portraits, pretty much covering the full range of styles and subject matter characteristic of photography in that period. 

I strongly encourage you to go to the VMFA's website and flip through the pages of the Black Photographers Annuals

Not only do we step back into a world that to me seems like yesterday, but in fact is rapidly becoming a period in history, but we also get to appreciate the quality of this work, and also recover something of the excitement generated by photography in the early days of its recognition as a fine art practice.

The show at the VMFA has been featured in an entry on the New York Times LENS blog, go here. 

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