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Deborah Willis . Critical Narratives in Visualizing the Black Body

Images of the black subject, whether artistic, documentary, or anthropological, are forever fixed in the popular imagination through photography. From the medium’s beginning, race and gender have shaped and controlled the reception of photographic portraits, both politically and aesthetically. Black American photographers of the 19th and 20th centuries responded to their own lives and their communities in similar ways. Some evoked an emotional message that went beyond the self-representation but connected in the re-characterization of the African American experience. The photographers coupled the aspirations and dreams of their subjects with their own. Today, many of the black photographers working all over the diaspora are responding to social issues that take them beyond the sometimes-insular photographic community. They comment on politics, culture, family, and history from internal and external points of view. This lecture will mediate between the objectification of the black body and (re) presenting the black body as it connects to the photographs of Gordon Parks and other photoartists working today who are actively involved in changing the course of art history and fundamentally imaging the black in Western art.

Deborah Willis, Ph.D, is University Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at New York University/Tisch and has an affiliated appointment in Africana Studies. Professor Willis was a 2014 Richard D. Cohen Fellow of African and African American Art History at the Hutchins Center, Harvard University, a 2005 Guggenheim Fellow and Fletcher Fellow, and a 2000 MacArthur Fellow. Professor Willis has received the NAACP Image Award in 2014 for her co-authored book (with Barbara Krauthamer) “Envisioning Emancipation.” Other notable projects include “The Black Female Body A Photographic History” with Carla Williams; “Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers - 1840 to the Present;” “Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present;” “Michelle Obama: The First Lady in Photographs,” a NAACP Image Award Literature Winner, and “Black Venus 2010: They Called Her ‘Hottentot.’” “.