Deborah Willis, an expert on African American photography asks 18 writers, critics and film makers each to select a photograph of personal or historical significance and to "read" it for insights into the black experience. While some of the contributors write about family portraits - for instance, bell hooks and E. Ethelbert Miller write about their fathers - others have selected photographs of a more public and political nature - Jacquie Jones talks about lynchings, while Robert Hill analyzes the infamous picture of Marcus Garvey in a procession. The photographs and essays in this collection take the reader from the "great black migration" to the Harlem Renaissance, from southern lynchings to northern integration, from musings about black female subjectivity in art to the objectification of the black male in the whilte American psyche. Even the analysis of family portraits convey a broad sense of African American history. So a picture in which family members are arranged lightest to darkest repreestnts more than happenstance: it exposes how gradations of colour have divided the black community since slavery.
Contributors include Adele Alexander, St Clair Bourne, Claudine Brown, Angela Davis, Vertamae Grosvenor, Lise Hamilton, Luke Charles Harris, Robert Hill, bell hooks, Edward P. Jones, Jacquie Jones, E. Ethelbert Miller, Paul Rogers, Kathe Sandler, Clarissa Sligh, Christian Walker and Carla Williams.
Deborah Willis is curator of exhibitions at the National African American Museum Project of the Smithsonian Institute. Her previous books include Early Black Photographers: 1840 to 1940 and VanDerZee: Photographer 1886-1983. She lives in Washington, D.C.