As most of you know, the United States witnessed some harrowing scenes of racial unrest and injustice last week. They troubled everyone with a mind or a heart.
By what now seems a grateful coincidence, Aperture magazine recently published a special edition, #223, titled Vision & Justice, guest-edited by Sarah Lewis, an Assistant Professor of History of Art and Architecture and African and African American Studies at Harvard University and currently a Du Bois Fellow at Harvard. Aperture issue #223 examines the role of photography in the African-American experience.
"In 1926, my grandfather was expelled in the eleventh grade in New York City for asking where African Americans were in the history books. He refused to accept what the teacher told him, that African Americans had done nothing to merit inclusion. He was expelled for his so-called impertinence. His pride was so wounded that he never went back to high school. Instead, he went on to become a jazz musician and a painter, inserting images of African Americans in scenes where he thought they should—and knew they did—exist. The endeavor to affirm the dignity of human life cannot be waged without pictures, without representational justice. This, he knew.
"American citizenship has long been a project of vision and justice."
So begins Lewis's introduction.
The issue—it's really a book in all but name—features a wide range of photographers and artists who use photography, accompanied by short essays by an equally wide-ranging sampling of writers. Not all are black, but almost all the photographs are of black people and black life in America, currently and in history. To name a few names, the photographers include "such luminaries as Lyle Ashton Harris, Annie Leibovitz, Sally Mann, Jamel Shabazz, Lorna Simpson, Carrie Mae Weems, and Deborah Willis, as well as the brilliant voices of an emerging generation—Devin Allen, Awol Erizku, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Deana Lawson, and Hank Willis Thomas, among many others. These portfolios are complemented by essays from some of the most influential voices in American culture including contributions by celebrated writers, historians, and artists such as Vince Aletti, Teju Cole, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Margo Jefferson, Wynton Marsalis, and Claudia Rankine."
There are two covers to choose from, one in color, one in black-and-white. I chose the one above, a heretofore little-known photograph of Martin Luther King with his father and his son.
It's a sampler, but a vital and exuberant one, built by many hands. Prof. Lewis is attracting widespread praise for her brilliant effort. You can get it directly from Aperture or through Amazon (here's Amazon UK), but either way it's going to take a while to arrive—it's attracting demand from far outside the boundaries of those interested in photography and is currently sold out, being reprinted as we speak. If it were me I'd get in line at Amazon. I've been dipping into this every evening since it came, and it has made me feel better—very highly recommended, but especially right now.
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