Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People

(Rochester, NY) – Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People probes the recesses of American history through images that have been suppressed, forgotten and lost. The first documentary to explore the role of photography in shaping the identity, aspirations and social emergence of African Americans from slavery to the present, Through the Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People airs Monday, February 16 at 10 p.m. as part of Black History Month programming on WXXI-TV.

Bringing to light the hidden and unknown photos shot by both professional and amatuer African-American photographers, the film opens a window into the lives of black families, whose experiences and perspectives are often missing from the traditional historical canon. These images show a much more complex and nuanced view of American culture and society and its founding ideals. Inspired by Reflections in Black by author Deborah Willis, the film features the works of Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson, Anthony Barboza, Hank Willis Thomas, Coco Fusco, Clarissa Sligh, and many others.

The work of pioneering black photographers over the past 170 years — both men and women — is highlighted throughout the film. Their images help reclaim a sense of collective self-worth and humanity, and provide a rich history of African-American contributions to the development of photography, both as an art form and a force to be reckoned with. Capturing the spirit of transformation that led African Americans from the deprivations of slavery to the self-sufficiency of economic mobility and social stability, the film also focuses on the ways in which black photographers learned to use the medium to construct strategically useful political, aesthetic, and cultural representations of themselves and their world. Filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris, who carries at least one camera with him at all times, has been mining material from his extended family archives for over 20 years. But making Through a Lens Darkly provided him with new insights. “This project would take me on a personal journey to understand why it was so important for black photographers, both professional and vernacular, to make photographs,” he said. “Through this journey I was to learn that it was a form of activism and a strategy for survival in America.”

Pictured: "Untitled (Mother), 1998"
Credit: Courtesy of Lyle Ashton Harris in collaboration with Thomas Allen Harris 

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