Curation of Black Lives: Our Glory

Featuring excerpts from bell hooks, Art on my Mind, Visual Politics: "In Our Glory: Photography and Black Life"

September 2015


To enter black homes in my childhood was to enter a world that valued the visual, that asserted our collective will to participate in a noninstitutionalized curatorial process.

Excerpt from: bell hooks, Art on my Mind: Visual Politics: “In Our Glory: Photography and Black Life” 


Peter Beste

Peter Beste

Photograph from Waheed Photo Archive

Photograph from Waheed Photo Archive


I think about the place of art in black life, connection between the social construction of black identity, the impact of race and class, and the presence in black life of an inarticulate but ever-present visual aesthetic governing our relationship to images, to the process of image making.

Cameras gave black folks, irrespective of class, a means by which we could participate fully in the production of images. Hence it is essential that any theoretical discussion of the relationship of black life to the visual, to art making, make photography central. 

Before racial integration, there was a constant struggle on the part of black folks to create a counter-hegemonic world of images that would stand as visual resistance, challenging racist images. 

Most southern black folks grew up in a context where snapshots and the more stylized photographs taken by professional photographers were the easiest images to produce.

Excerpt from: bell hooks, Art on my Mind: Visual Politics: “In Our Glory: Photography and Black Life” 


Baldwin Lee

Baldwin Lee

Baldwin Lee

Baldwin Lee

Baldwin Lee

Baldwin Lee


The walls of pictures were indeed maps, guiding us through diverse journeys.

Excerpt from: bell hooks, Art on my Mind: Visual Politics: “In Our Glory: Photography and Black Life” 


Leonard Freed

Leonard Freed

Stephen Reiss

Stephen Reiss


Displaying these images in everyday life was as central as making them.

Excerpt from: bell hooks, Art on my Mind: Visual Politics: “In Our Glory: Photography and Black Life” 


LaToya Ruby Frazier

LaToya Ruby Frazier



Gordon Parks

Gordon Parks

 

 

 

 

The walls of images in Southern black homes were sites of resistance. They constituted private, black-owned and operated gallery space where images could be displayed to show friends and strangers. These walls were a space where, in the midst of segregation, the hardship of apartheid, dehumanization could be countered.

Excerpt from: bell hooks, Art on my Mind: Visual Politics: “In Our Glory: Photography and Black Life” 


Growing up inside these walls, many of us did not, at the time, regard them as important or valuable. 

Excerpt from: bell hooks, Art on my Mind: Visual Politics: “In Our Glory: Photography and Black Life” 


Baldwin Lee

Baldwin Lee

LaToya Ruby Frazier

LaToya Ruby Frazier

Stephen Reiss

Stephen Reiss


The sites of contestation were not out there, in the world of white power, they were within segregated black life. 

Excerpt from: bell hooks, Art on my Mind: Visual Politics: “In Our Glory: Photography and Black Life”  


Photograph from Waheed Photo Archive

Photograph from Waheed Photo Archive


Ya bon, Banania II Assemblage by Jean-Jacques Lebel (1990)

Ya bon, Banania II Assemblage by Jean-Jacques Lebel (1990)

 

 

 

 

The degrading images of blackness that emerged from racist white imaginations and that were circulated widely in the dominant culture (on salt shakers, cookie jars, pancake boxes) could be countered by "true-to-life" images.

Excerpt from: bell hooks, Art on my Mind: Visual Politics: “In Our Glory: Photography and Black Life” 


Photography in Art


Serenade, by Romare Bearden (1969)

The Twenties, by Romare Bearden (Circa 1978)

The Twenties, by Romare Bearden (Circa 1978)

 

For black folks, the camera provided a means to document a reality that could, if necessary, be packed, stored, moved from place to place. It was documentation that could easily be shared, passed around. And, ultimately, these images, the world they recorded, could be hidden, to be discovered at another time. 

Excerpt from: bell hooks, Art on my Mind: Visual Politics: “In Our Glory: Photography and Black Life” 


After Hurricane Katrina

Paolo Pellegrin

Paolo Pellegrin


Paolo Pellegrin

Paolo Pellegrin

Paolo Pellegrin

Paolo Pellegrin


Paolo Pellegrin

Paolo Pellegrin


Elderly black people developed a cultural passion for the camera, for the images it produced, because it offered a way to contain memories, to overcome loss, to keep history.

Excerpt from: bell hooks, Art on my Mind: Visual Politics: “In Our Glory: Photography and Black Life” 


Lou Fourcher

Lou Fourcher


I was somewhat awed and frightened by our extended family's emphasis on picture taking. From the images of the dead as they lay serene, beautiful, and still in open caskets to the endless portraits of newborns, every wall and corner of my grandparents' (and most of everyone else's) home was lined with photographs. 

Excerpt from: bell hooks, Art on my Mind: Visual Politics: “In Our Glory: Photography and Black Life” 


LaToya Ruby Frazier

LaToya Ruby Frazier


David Damoison

David Damoison

 

 

Sarah Oldham, my mother's mother was a keeper of walls. Throughout my childhood, visits to her house were like trips to a gallery or museum -- experiences we did not have because of racial segregation. We would stand before the walls of images and learn the importance of the arrangement, why a certain photograph was placed here and not there. 

Excerpt from: bell hooks, Art on my Mind: Visual Politics: “In Our Glory: Photography and Black Life” 


Alex Webb

Alex Webb

 

 

The walls were fundamentally different from photo albums. Rather than shutting images away, where they could only be seen upon request, the walls were a public announcement of the primacy of the image, the joy of image making. 

Excerpt from: bell hooks, Art on my Mind: Visual Politics: “In Our Glory: Photography and Black Life” 



They provided a necessary narrative, a way for us to enter history without words.

Excerpt from: bell hooks, Art on my Mind: Visual Politics: “In Our Glory: Photography and Black Life” 


Deborah Metsch

Deborah Metsch


Reflecting the way black folks looked at themselves in those private spaces, where those ways of looking were not being overseen by a white colonizing eye, a white supremacist gaze, these images created ruptures in our experience of the visual. 

Many of these images demanded that we look at ourselves with new eyes, that we create oppositional standards of evaluation. 

As we looked at black skin in snapshots, the techniques for lightening skin that professional photographers used when shooting black images were suddenly exposed as a colonizing aesthetic. Photographs taken in everyday life, snapshots in particular, rebelled against all of those photographic practices that reinscribed colonial ways of looking and capturing the images of the black "other."

Excerpt from: bell hooks, Art on my Mind: Visual Politics: “In Our Glory: Photography and Black Life” 


Photography by Baldwin Lee


As children, we learned who our ancestors were by listening to endless narratives as we stood in front of these pictures.

Excerpt from: bell hooks, Art on my Mind: Visual Politics: “In Our Glory: Photography and Black Life” 


LaToya Ruby Frazier

LaToya Ruby Frazier


Drawing from the past, from those walls of images I grew up with, I gather snapshots and lay them out to see what narratives the images tell, what they say without words. I search these images to see if there are imprints waiting to be seen, recognized, and read.

Together, a black male friend and I lay out the snapshots of his boyhood to see where he began to lose a certain openness, to discern at what age he began to shut down, to close himself away. Through these images, my friend hopes to find a way back to the self he once was.

Excerpt from: bell hooks, Art on my Mind: Visual Politics: “In Our Glory: Photography and Black Life” 


Photograph from Fade Resistance, a photographic archive of Black life by Zun Lee

Photograph from Fade Resistance, a photographic archive of Black life by Zun Lee


We are awed by what our snapshots reveal, what they enable us to remember. 

Excerpt from: bell hooks, Art on my Mind: Visual Politics: “In Our Glory: Photography and Black Life” 


Personal Archive: Family photographs of Renata Cherlise

Personal Archive: Family photographs of Renata Cherlise


The word remember (re-member) evokes the coming together of severed parts, fragments becoming a whole. Photography has been, and is, central to that aspect of decolonization that calls us back to the past and offers a way to reclaim and renew life-affirming bonds. Using images, we connect ourselves to a recuperative, redemptive memory that enables us to construct radical identities, images of ourselves that transcend the limits of the colonizing eye.

Excerpt from: bell hooks, Art on my Mind: Visual Politics: “In Our Glory: Photography and Black Life”