Collecting Works by African-American Photographers
A superb selection of images by African-American photographers is set to come across the block in our fall 2019 sale of African-American Fine Art. Here we take a look at the offering that includes artists from the Harlem Renaissance through today.
James Van Der Zee
James Van Der Zee opened Guarantee Photos, later G.G.G. Photo Studio, in Harlem in 1916. He photographed everything and everyone in the neighborhood through the 1960s, taking society and funeral portraits, as well as journalistic images of marches and neighborhood landmarks. Among his most famous portraits are those of Marcus Garvey, Teddy Hill and Hazel Scott. His tremendous contribution to the Harlem community went unrecognized for much of his life.
Roy DeCarava‘s photographs are masterpieces of light and shadow. He initially worked as a painter and printmaker but began exploring photography in the late 1940s. By 1952 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. A remarkable image maker, DeCarava was a sophisticated photographic printer, creating photographs that drew on his experiences living in Harlem. In the photo above, Harry Belafonte appears with members of the vocal group The Belafonte Folk Singers. They performed together at Carnegie Hall as part of the live performance and double album recording—Harry Belafonte Returns to Carnegie Hall on May 2, 1960.
Carrie Mae Weems
Carrie Mae Weems‘s work explores social forces—power, social expectations and self-worth. Through her images, she challenges society’s ideas of race, sex and class.
Both White Patty and Black Woman with Chicken are scarce works from the artist’s 1987-88 series, Ain’t Jokin. Kathryn E. Delmez, author of Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video, describes this early series as examining, “humor as a socially acceptable way to promote officially unacceptable ideologies through unflinching pairings of stage photographs with racist jokes, ideas or phrases.” The series is also the first in which Weems incorporates text with her photographs.
The original Unititled (See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil) triptych was comprised of individual Polaroid photographs. In 1990, Weems was invited by the company to use their mammoth 20-by-24-inch camera. It was Weem’s first use of color in her work.
Born in New York City, Dawoud Bey received his MFA from Yale University in 1993. He began his first series of photographs entitled Harlem, USA in 1975, and would later be exhibited at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1979. The present photograph of Barack Obama was commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago. Taken in early 2007, before he would become the 44th President of the United States, the image shows Obama in his Hyde Park home in Chicago. “I wanted an interesting animation of the body, and finally through camera positioning and having him turn himself slightly I figured it out,” noted Bey of the photograph in a 2014 New York Times article. The photograph was included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial.
Bey is well known for his recent work, Birmingham: Four Girls and Two Boys, a project that features photographic pairing focused on the tragic events surrounding the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.
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