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Review: THROUGH A LENS DARKLY: BLACK PHOTOGRAPHERS AND THE EMERGENCE OF A PEOPLE (2014)

In FLIX!

Joseph Friar

By Joseph Friar
Nov. 3, 2014 at 11:01 p.m.


Review
THROUGH A LENS DARKLY: BLACK PHOTOGRAPHERS AND THE EMERGENCE OF A PEOPLE (2014) Documentary. Hank Willis Thomas, 
Deborah Willis, Lyle Ashton Harris, Carrie Mae Weems, Thomas Allen Harris, 
Directed by Thomas Allen Harris

Inspired by the book "Reflections in Black" by artist, photographer, and curator Deborah Willis, this absorbing documentary by Thomas Allen Harris uses a plethora of material to showcase how black people have been depicted and misrepresented by society in photographs that contrast those taken by professional black photographers and African-Americans in general.

It's a fascinating look back at images that generally portrayed black people as negative stereotypes, often dehumanizing and shocking, from offensive advertisements to graphic lynching photos that were sold as postcards at the local drug store. 

Harris, using voice-over narration to accompany the hundreds of images, shifts the focus to black photographers that captured African-Americans in auspicious portraits dating back to the mid 19th century and through the civil rights movement including James Van Der Zee, Roy DeCarava, and Gordon Parks, whose photos graced the pages of Vogue and Life magazines. 

A turning point in the way African-Americans were viewed by mainstream society took place at the Parisian World's Fair of 1900 where famous civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois curated a photography exhibit depicting black Americans as civilized and dignified people. Modern-day photographers such as Renee Cox and Carrie Mae Weems are also featured as they add commentary on the history of black photography in this educational and informative documentary.

(3 stars)


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