Forthcoming Photo Books by African American & Black African Photographers

Forthcoming Photo Books by African American & Black African Photographers

Posted by on Feb 22, 2017 in Qiana Mestrich | No Comments

Every year as I browse newly published photography books, I can’t help but notice an immense shortage in the number of titles being published by or featuring the works of photographers of color. “Why?” I wonder and yet no reason I can imagine seems acceptable. Consider this Amazon list of 2017 photography books by individual photographers, only 7 of the 307 books (just 2.3%) are by Black photographers of African origin or descent despite the hundreds if not thousands of well-known, working photo-based artists out there.

There’s still no lack of photo books about the “tribes of the world”, made by photographers with an insatiable need to scratch their itch to photograph what they’ve identified as “vanishing” cultures. The artistic value of books like these is often questionable as they are filled with images that cross the line from art photography to blatant cultural appropriation.

What makes a B&W photograph of an indigenous artist at work in a photo book that will sell many copies at $50 a piece any less offensive or disrespectful than the mass-produced goods that formed the basis for the Navajo’s trademark dilution claims against Urban Outfitters and its subsidiaries?

So what can be done to diversify the photobook medium? Here are a few thoughts to inspire a conversation if not action:

  1. I urge the major and independent photo book publishers of the world to notice the work of photographers of color and dare to publish their work in an effort to close this racial and cultural disparity.
  2. I call out to photographers of color who have published photo books to regularly share their own knowledge of the (self) publishing process with others like them.
  3. We must form a community of photobook makers (that can pool financial resources and other design/production support) to help the non-published reach their publishing goals.
  4. Beyond the typical survey or monograph, the publishing industry at large must commit to diversifying the photobook medium by releasing books every year featuring unique bodies of work by individual photographers of color.
  5. At the very least, curators can help fill the gap by budgeting for and publishing catalogs of the solo exhibitions featuring photographers of color that they organize.
  6. Organizers of art book fairs should recognize this underserved group and take measures to diversify the titles displayed at their events.

Lastly, to get back to the point as specified by the title of this post. The following is a list of those 7 photo books to be released in 2017 that I mentioned earlier and including Adger Cowan’s book which was just published this January:

Sights in the City: New York Street Photographs by Jamel Shabazz (2017)

Sights in the City: New York Street Photographs by Jamel Shabazz (2017)

Sights in the City: New York Street Photographs by Jamel Shabazz
Publisher: Damiani (March 28, 2017)
Product Information Excerpt:
Consisting of 120 color and black-and-white photographs taken between 1985 and the 2000s, most of which have never been published, Sights in the City is the testament of Shabazz’s visual journey.

 

Leslie Hewitt (2017)

Leslie Hewitt (2017)

Leslie Hewitt
Publisher: OSMOS BOOKS (June 27, 2017)
Product Information Excerpt:
That cinematic rumination on historicity and the relationship of the archive to memory, minimalism, lived experience and time, sets an exemplary precedent for this first monograph surveying Hewitt’s oeuvre.

Gordon Parks: Collected Works: Study Edition (2017)

Gordon Parks: Collected Works: Study Edition (2017)

Gordon Parks: Collected Works
Publisher: Steidl/The Gordon Parks Foundation (April 25, 2017)
Product Information Excerpt:
This five-volume collection surveys five decades of Gordon Parks’ (1912–2006) photography. It is the most extensive publication to document his legendary career.

Koto Bolofo: Printing (2017)

Koto Bolofo: Printing (2017)

Koto Bolofo: Printing
Publisher: Steidl (May 23, 2017)
Product Information Excerpt:
Innovative fashion photographer Koto Bolofo (born 1959) is well known for his portraits and fashion shoots, and published in such prestigious periodicals as Vogue, Esquire and i-D. In this volume, his images lead readers through the corridors and stairways of the Steidl printing center, documenting the magical formation of some of the most beautiful visual books ever made.

Koto Bolofo: Paper Making

Koto Bolofo: Paper Making (2017)

Koto Bolofo: Paper Making
Publisher: Steidl (May 23, 2017)
Product Information Excerpt:
In Paper Making, Koto Bolofo graphically captures Hahnemühle’s artisanal processes and antique machinery alongside today’s most advanced technologies, uncovering the attention to detail, vision and pride that have sustained the company’s unmatched reputation for centuries.

 

Santu Mofokeng: Stories 5-7: Soweto-Dukathole-Johannesburg (2017)

Santu Mofokeng: Stories 5-7: Soweto-Dukathole-Johannesburg (2017)

Santu Mofokeng: Stories 5-7: Soweto-Dukathole-Johannesburg
Publisher: Steidl (May 23, 2017)
Product Information Excerpt:
This three-volume publication, which continues a groundbreaking reappraisal of the photographer’s archive, presents aspects of life in Soweto, where Mofokeng grew up; Dukathole, a township in the East Rand of Gauteng Province; and Johannesburg, the city in which he worked.

 

Fragile Legacies: The Photographs of Solomon Osagie Alonge (2017)

Fragile Legacies: The Photographs of Solomon Osagie Alonge (2017)

Fragile Legacies: The Photographs of Solomon Osagie Alonge
Publisher: GILES (March 3, 2017)
Product Information Excerpt:
Chief Solomon Osagie Alonge (1911–1994) was one of Nigeria’s premier photographers and the first official photographer to the Royal Court of the Kingdom of Benin.

Personal Vision: Adger Cowans (2017)

Personal Vision: Adger Cowans (2017)

Personal Vision: Adger Cowans
Publisher: Glitterati (January 27, 2017)
Product Information Excerpt:
Master American photographer Adger Cowan’s predominantly black-and-white photography is collected in Personal Vision: Photographs, his monograph of original images taken over the past forty years.


 

Qiana Mestrich is a photographer, writer, digital marketer and mother from Brooklyn, NY. She is the founder of Dodge & Burn: Decolonizing Photography History, a blog that seeks to establish a more inclusive history of photography, highlighting contributions to the medium by and about people of underrepresented cultures. Read her other guest posts on the Baxter St blog: Photography and the Black Panther PartyThe Black Female Self in Landscape and In Memoriam: John Berger and Uses of Photography Quotes.

Photography and The Black Panther Party

Photography and The Black Panther Party

Posted by on Jan 27, 2017 in Qiana Mestrich | No Comments

Sadie Barnette’s Do Not Destroy solo show opened last week at Baxter St to a roaring reception. It’s not every day that you get to see a gallery show that features the classified FBI documents of an ex-Black Panther Party member. That Panther is Rodney Barnette, who founded the Compton, California, chapter of the Black Panther Party of Self Defense in 1968. The centerpiece of Barnette’s show is undoubtedly the wall filled with copies of her father’s surveillance files, embellished in the artist’s signature “graffiti” and faux jewel treatment.

170118-Sadie_Barnette-Do_Not_Destroy_018

Barnette’s show features minimal photography. Opposite the wall of FBI files stands two seemingly life-sized portraits of a young Rodney Barnette that his daughter/the artist has rephotographed. On the left we see him smiling in his US military uniform. In opposition, to the right is Barnette captured in harsh flash donning a black beret, t-shirt and leather jacket; his dark shadow looms large behind him as he looks off camera. This photograph of Rodney is untitled, and yet we need no explanation that this is a changed man, reincarnated as a BPP member.

Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in Huey's Apartment, Oakland, California, 1971

Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in Huey’s Apartment, Oakland, California, 1971

In the juxtaposition of these two portraits, the viewer contends with the use of photography as a witness to Rodney’s shifting identities and ultimately the medium’s political power. Without going into the internal politics and covert government action that caused the party to disband, I’d like to briefly discuss what art critic John Berger considered to be “the crucial role of photography in ideological struggle” and the Black Panther Party’s strategic use of photography (and posing) in crafting their own brand of Black anti-fascism.

Elaine Brown (bottom left) and to her side Huey P. Newton leading the Black Panthers at a press conference in San Francisco. (October 1971)

Elaine Brown (bottom left) and to her side Huey P. Newton leading the Black Panthers at a press conference in San Francisco. (October 1971)

Many B&W photographs exist of the high profile BPP leaders. Both male and female members are pictured in socio-political context: raising fists, encouraging crowds, marching in demonstrations, standing in formation, working at their headquarters, being interviewed by and addressing the press, conversing critically with each other, meeting other political leaders, performing community service or even just relaxing at home.

Wanted by the FBI, Interstate Flight - Murder, Kidnaping, Angela Yvonne Davis. Gift of Brian Wallis, 2010. Courtesy of the International Center of Photography.

Wanted by the FBI, Interstate Flight – Murder, Kidnaping, Angela Yvonne Davis. Gift of Brian Wallis, 2010. Courtesy of the International Center of Photography.

Then we see the isolated figure: numerous solo portraits of Bobby Seale, Stokely Carmichael, Huey Newton, Angela Davis, Kathleen and Eldridge Cleaver. This image of the lone revolutionary becomes ubiquitous just a few years earlier with Cuba’s Che Guevara and the Black Panthers utilize their portraits on paraphernalia like flyers, buttons, posters, t-shirts, publications. Sometimes these solo portraits were used to vilify the Panthers, like in the wanted poster below of Angela Davis. (Side note: you can view this poster in person at the ICP Collections at Mana Contemporary in NJ. It’s quite an amazing experience!)

Stripped to the waist in the afternoon sun, Huey Newton, co-founder of the Black Panthers shakes hands with followers and friends who greeted him as he walked out of the Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland, Calif., Aug. 6, 1970.

Stripped to the waist in the afternoon sun, Huey Newton, co-founder of the Black Panthers shakes hands with followers and friends who greeted him as he walked out of the Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland, Calif., Aug. 6, 1970.

The Black Panther Party’s visual message also conveyed their unique style and sex appeal, both aspects of the party’s identity that no doubt helped with recruitment efforts. Jet black leather jackets, Ray Bans, berets, perfectly coiffed afros merged effortlessly with the sleek profiles of .357 Magnums, 12-gauge shotguns, and .45-caliber pistols to create an impressionable representation of Black power.

Portrait of Kathleen Neal Cleaver by Howard Bingham.

Portrait of Kathleen Neal Cleaver by Howard Bingham.

Both Kathleen Cleaver (BPP communications secretary and wife of Eldridge) and co-founder Huey Newton became the party’s default sex symbols. Newton was pictured exhibiting his bare-chested, muscle-toned physique both at home and when he was freed from prison in 1970. Bingham’s images of Cleaver portray her as a thing of beauty though she may not have intended this to be her role. Yet Cleaver did play with fashion by often sporting a large afro, hoop earrings and the radical above-the-knee length skirt style thus creating a new revolutionary aesthetic in clothing for (Black) American women. The Black Panther style was even appropriated in advertising as seen in this vintage ad for Newport cigarettes.   

A Black Panther feeds his son at the “Free Huey” rally in Oakland, California. February 17, 1968.

A Black Panther feeds his son at the “Free Huey” rally in Oakland, California. February 17, 1968.

Not only did the Black Panther Party provide political power for many Black Americans, but they also affirmed the notion of family. This familial bond was forged mainly through offering life-sustaining services like free breakfast programs and community schools operated in cities like Oakland, CA. So not only do we see Panthers providing children with nutrition and education, but we also see children in attendance at rallies and marches. Of course, the most famous BPP child was Tupac Shakur, son of party member Afeni Shakur.

Knowing that the photographic image is only as empathetic as the photographer behind the lens, the BPP leaders were strategic in appointing Stephen Shames as the party’s official photographer. In another move to control their image, Muhammad Ali’s personal photographer Howard Bingham was contracted for six months to shoot a 1968 cover story for LIFE magazine upon the insistence of party leader Eldridge Cleaver.

British Black Panthers take to the streets of London. Photograph by Neil Kenlock.

British Black Panthers take to the streets of London. Photograph by Neil Kenlock.

Despite the negative reports and judgements about who they were, the Black Panther Party members were in full control of their own image as surely they knew their supporters and haters around the world were watching. The BPP’s strong message spread overseas in areas where other Black communities were struggling for their own civil rights, inspiring regional groups like the British Black Panthers – see the work of Neil Kenlock. In this time post-US election where many are preparing for struggle once again, we are fortunate to be able to reflect on these images.

For additional viewing, I’ve created a Black Panther Party Photography board on Pinterest. Also, the Smithsonian Institute has an excellent BPP archive of black & white, documentary photographs from the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Sadie Barnette’s Do Not Destroy, curated by Alexandra Giniger, is on view at Baxter St now through February 18, 2017.


Qiana Mestrich is a photographer, writer, digital marketer and mother from Brooklyn, NY. She is the founder of Dodge & Burn: Decolonizing Photography History, a blog that seeks to establish a more inclusive history of photography, highlighting contributions to the medium by and about people of underrepresented cultures. Read her other guest posts on the Baxter St blog: The Black Female Self in Landscape, Forthcoming Photbooks by African American and Black African Photographers and In Memoriam: John Berger and Uses of Photography Quotes.

In Memoriam: John Berger and Uses of Photography Quotes

In Memoriam: John Berger and Uses of Photography Quotes

Posted by on Jan 25, 2017 in Qiana Mestrich, Uncategorized | No Comments

Earlier this month, noted art critic John Berger passed away. His death immediately sparked ripples of mentions throughout photography and art communities online. Though his writings may have been eclipsed by the more-celebrated musings of Walter Benjamin and Susan Sontag, Berger’s observations on the propagation of the photographic medium are nonetheless as crucial and still relevant today.

When I heard of his passing, I immediately looked for my copy of About Looking (Pantheon Books, 1980) which I happened to find years ago amongst a pile of books left on the street. The book is a collection of essays by Berger written over ten years which were all previously published in New Society magazine and The Guardian UK newspaper. About Looking not only discusses the act of looking at photographs, it is “a fascinating record of the search for meaning within and behind what’s looked at.”

Berger’s most direct critique of our lens-based medium is an essay titled Uses of Photography, in which he writes down “some of my responses to Sontag’s 1977 book On Photography.” Without publishing the entire essay, below I’ve highlighted select quotes that introduce and elaborate on Berger’s idea of “an alternative photography” to counteract the medium’s nefarious functions and realize it’s altruistic possibilities.

WARNING: The following quotes contain radical (or what could be considered socialist) views on photography’s historical role in modern, Western society. Proceed with a decolonized mind.

“The speed with which the possible uses of photography were seized upon is surely an indication of photography’s profound, central applicability to capitalism. Marx came of age the year of the camera’s invention.”

“Photographs in themselves do not narrate. Photographs preserve instant appearances.”

“A mechanical device, the camera has been used as an instrument to contribute to a living memory. The photograph is a memento from a life being lived.”

“Has the camera replaced the eye of God? The decline of religion corresponds with the rise of the photograph.”

“The camera relieves us of the burden of memory. It surveys us like God, and it surveys for us. Yet no other god has been so cynical, for the camera records in order to forget.”

Upon (re)reading this quote I immediately recalled photographer/ethnologist Edward Curtis who made it his mission to document the North American native population because of his imperialist belief that they were “a vanishing race.”

Edward Curtis. “The Vanishing Race – Navaho”, 1904, volume 1, portfolio plate 1, photogravure, 46 x 31 cm., Special Collection, Honnold Library, Claremont.

Edward Curtis. “The Vanishing Race – Navaho”, 1904, volume 1, portfolio plate 1, photogravure, 46 x 31 cm., Special Collection, Honnold Library, Claremont.

“… the current systematic public use of photography needs to be challenged, not simply by turning round like a cannon and aiming it at different targets, but by changing its practice. How?”

“The truth is that most photographs taken of people are about suffering, and most of that suffering is man-made.”

Certainly this quote speaks to the historical and systematic utilization of ethnographic photography of native and indigenous populations around the world. In our globalized era, suffering is injected into (public and private) visual culture through images of war and illicit pornography which is a byproduct of modern slavery or human trafficking.

“It is possible that photography is the prophecy of a human memory yet to be socially and politically achieved.“

“The task of an alternative photography is to incorporate photography into social and political memory, instead of using it as a substitute which encourages the atrophy of any such memory.”

“The aim must be to construct a context for a photograph, to construct it with words, to construct it with other photographs, to construct it by its place in an ongoing text of photographs and images.”  

Next Berger argues that photographs are typically used in a “unilinear way… to illustrate an argument, or to demonstrate a thought…” Consider the way a forensic photographer records the initial appearance of a crime scene as the first encounter and experience it through their subjective perspective. Berger also cites a photograph’s more common, tautological use so that it only “repeats what is being said in words.”

Although Berger argues that memory is not linear and works radially, with an “enormous number of associations all leading to the same event.” This radial pattern of memory is compared by Berger as being like the spoke of a wheel, which is a bit simplistic with just a single radiating plane. In my opinion, memory’s radial pattern has multiple (perhaps intersecting) planes and instead mimics the fractal-like, radiating pattern of a dandelion seed head.

Diagram of a radial pattern.

Diagram of a radial pattern.

Radial pattern of a dandelion seed head. By Avenue (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Radial pattern of a dandelion seed head. By Avenue (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

“If we want to put a photograph back into the context of experience, social experience, social memory, we have to respect the laws of memory. We have to situate the printed photograph so that it acquires something of the surprising conclusiveness of that which was and is.”

“A radial system has to be constructed around the photograph so that it may be seen in terms which are simultaneously personal, political, economic, dramatic, everyday and historic.” 

I’m still trying to wrap my brain around this profound “radial system” and ways in which it can be used in storytelling and to display photographs in physical locations (galleries, public sites, etc.) More importantly I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps Berger was signaling our use of the #hashtag as a descriptor and curator of images on social media.  


Qiana Mestrich is a photographer, writer, digital marketer and mother from Brooklyn, NY. She is the founder of Dodge & Burn: Decolonizing Photography History, a blog that seeks to establish a more inclusive history of photography, highlighting contributions to the medium by and about people of underrepresented cultures. Read her other guest posts on the Baxter St blog: Photography and the Black Panther Party and The Black Female Self in Landscape.

The Black Female Self in Landscape

The Black Female Self in Landscape

Posted by on Jan 12, 2017 in Qiana Mestrich | No Comments

A recurring theme within contemporary art photography has been the imperative to address the biased or unavailable historical representation of the Black, female body. Since the 1990s’ artists like Carrie Mae Weems, Renee Cox, Xaviera Simmons and now Nona Faustine, have used photography to recognize Black womanhood in all its unattested complexities. In the photographs shown below, each artist has settled their melanated bodies within their landscape of choice – sites that have witnessed unspeakable violence, marooned existences and/or enlightened encounters.

Carrie Mae Weems. Dreaming in Cuba, 2001.

Carrie Mae Weems. Dreaming in Cuba, 2001.

Arguably the most prolific in her use of self-portraits within landscape, Carrie Mae Weems’ elegant figure has crossed the lens of several different bodies of work starting with her 2001 Dreaming in Cuba series. Unlike the other artists discussed, Weems more often than not stands in opposition to the lens, as if leading a group behind her. Exaggerated by robes or gowns, Weems’ figure floats into the frame, inserting the Black, female body into spaces from which its presence was forgotten or previously denied entry.

Xaviera Simmons. Denver, 2007.

Xaviera Simmons. Denver, 2007.

Launching her art career after a two-year pilgrimage retracing the TransAtlantic slave trade with Buddhist monks, Xaviera Simmons’s concern with wilderness explores spirituality in art. In previous works, Xaviera has used photography to create (self) portraits in both constructed and natural environments that question African-American identities and their relationships to those settings.

Renée Cox. River Queen, (from the Queen Nanny of the Maroons series), 2004.

Renée Cox. River Queen, (from the Queen Nanny of the Maroons series), 2004.

Although all of these artist perform for the camera, Renee Cox’s work is most dramatic in its telling of the stories of Black female figures like Queen Nanny, the only female national hero of Jamaica. Taking advantage of the physical strength expressed by her own, muscular body, Cox is concerned with self liberation and challenging the predetermined roles imposed on Black women.

Nona Faustine. “ ‘. . . a thirst for compleat freedom … had been her only motive for absconding.’ Oney Judge, Federal Hall NYC,” 2016.

Nona Faustine. “ ‘. . . a thirst for compleat freedom … had been her only motive for absconding.’ Oney Judge, Federal Hall NYC,” 2016.

Continuing this photographic tradition, Faustine’s work brilliantly hits at the intersection of two major socio-political conversations of the 21st century: the #BlackLivesMatter and body size acceptance movements. Standing on sacred, scarred or political North American spaces, Faustine’s self-portraits ultimately function as archaeological documentation. In its robust form and stoic posture, her body is a blatant reminder of chattel slavery yet also channels (art) historical representations of the feminine – from fertility goddesses/Venus figures to ancient Egyptian statuettes.

Faustine’s use of poetic captions with each photograph is particularly unique as she educates the viewer of what lies beneath these commonplace landmarks and tourist attractions. As commentary on issues that haunt our past and present realities, the images in White Shoes and in Faustine’s follow up exhibition at Baxter St are timeless, visualizing the cycle of (our country’s) birth, (economic) growth, death and rebirth.  

Nona Faustine’s solo exhibition, My Country, closes this week at Baxter St. You can also see her talk at the Brooklyn Museum this Saturday, January 14th.


Qiana Mestrich is a photographer, writer, digital marketer and mother from Brooklyn, NY. She is the founder of Dodge & Burn: Decolonizing Photography History, a blog that seeks to establish a more inclusive history of photography, highlighting contributions to the medium by and about people of underrepresented cultures. Read her other guest posts on the Baxter St blog: Photography and the Black Panther PartyThe Black Female Self in Landscape and In Memoriam: John Berger and Uses of Photography Quotes.