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Picturing Us: African American Identity in Photography Paperback – May 1, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Eighteen essays by black writers and scholars, in each of which a photograph is used as a springboard from which to address questions of black identity.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

For this book, Willis invited 18 writers, critics, and filmmakers to select a photograph they found personally or historically significant and to provide an analysis of their selection. The contributors include Adele Alexander, Angela Davis, Kathe Sandler, Slarissa Sligh, bell hooks, and Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor, and the images they chose include treasured family portraits, a lynching, a stylish woman of the Harlem Renaissance, a famous 19th-century propaganda piece designed to help recently freed slaves from New Orleans, and a daguerreotype portrait of a black child holding a white baby. By chance, the result is a small sampling from each period of African American history since the invention of photography. Willis (VanDerZee: A Photographic History, LJ 11/15/93), who is associated with the Smithsonian Institution's National African American Museum Project, is known for her ground-breaking research and writing on the subject of African American photography. Recommended for photography and African American studies collections.
Kathleen Collins, New York Transit Museum Archives, Brooklyn
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 209 pages
  • Publisher: The New Press (May 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565841069
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565841062
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #565,763 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Dr. Willis has done something terrific here. She begins assertively and positively, naming a central problem: the depiction of black "otherness" in historical photographic representation. She loves photography, a medium that has "given me the opportunity to walk through history." She believes in photography - and her understanding of the medium's power and her ability to teach it to maximum effect are at the heart of this successful book.
Eighteen contemporary African American artists, writers, poets, professors, and critics contributed essays. As a jumping-off point, the contributors begin with a photograph of their choosing. There are around fifty photos in this book, one image often leading to another.
In some cases, the stories are easier to come by than the photos. Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor writes, "If family stories were photographs, I'd need a small museum to house them, but a shoebox could house all the photos I have of my family." Her amazing grandmother gazes forthrightly at the photographer, but it's the remarkable family stories that are left.
Big themes challenge the reader. Family histories, objective and subjective views of African American culture, suffering and diaspora are, not surprisingly, woven through many of these essays. Some of the photos are well-known; others, not. Contributors chose family photos, and others present personally experienced public images. Robert A. Hill writes on Marcus Garvey, mentioning that through the 1920s there was a huge and important annual parade in Harlem - in which a contemporary newspaper reported that "fifty thousand Negroes of all ranks and stations in life and from every part of the globe - there were princes, high officials of various governments, [...] were in the line of march.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Here's a book of essays that not only reminds us of the dignity to be found in our history as African-Americans, but shows us where to look for them. No longer are we limited to searching for our "roots" through the eyes of "other"; no longer do we have to find "Self" through the acknowledgement of those who have only managed a glimpse at the rich heritage that is African-Americanism. There is something wonderful happening with the emergence of these texts. We are finally learning to love ourselves, which has been the one ingredient lacking in our search for self-worth. This book is a must-read for African-Americans who have yet to learn that our uniqueness is a product of our upbringing, our families and their values and traditions. We are not lost between the pages of some historical text that suggest we are the "disenfranchised." We can finally see ourselves as we truly are - proud and honorable contributors to this nation, complete with a historical and familial past that go beyond the traditional references normally attributed to us. This book is a truly informative edition to any collection.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Excellent historical information. Also made me look at photographs differently
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Exactly what is needed. Well documented.
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By BLH on December 18, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
a beautiful book
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