Deb Willis
12.24.11 NPR's Latest Story from The Picture Show

"The Big Legacy Of Charles 'Teenie' Harris, Photographer"

Listen to NPR's story about the current exhibition at Carnegie Museum of Art, "Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story," on view through April 7, 2012.
11.21.11 Cornell Chronicle: Portraits and Power: Library exhibition unpacks America's earliest photographs

At a Nov. 16 lecture, Deborah Willis -- a preeminent historian of African-American photography -- tackled the original purposes and the tacit meanings of a host of photographs that are part of a new exhibition, "Dawn's Early Light: The First 50 Years of American Photography," in the library's Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections.

Read more here.
10.09.11 'Mixing Metaphors': African American art that inspires
Art: 'Mixing Metaphors': African American art that inspires

By Edward J. Sozanski, Contributing Art Critic

As Bank of America expanded in recent decades by absorbing other banks, it built up a substantial collection of art once owned by those banks.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art recently exhibited one such constituent collection, a group of watercolors by the 19th-century painter Alfred Jacob Miller.

Through the end of the year, the African American Museum in Philadelphia is featuring another aspect of Bank of America's art holdings - paintings, works on paper, and a few sculptures and mixed-media pieces by African American artists.

This exhibition, "Mixing Metaphors," is both larger and more ambitious than the Miller show, which focused on a group of images produced during and after an extended visit to Indian territories beyond the Great Plains.

We might have expected Bank of America to simply pull out the big names from its African American collection and present these as evidence of what black artists have contributed to American culture. But this has been done so often that there would be little point in doing it again, especially in a museum devoted to black history.

Guest curator Deborah Willis, a photographer and historian of African American photography, has instead assembled an exhibition that attempts to say something about the political, social, and aesthetic dimensions of African American culture.

She organized the more than 90 works by 36 artists into three thematic sections: Reflection and Likeness, Constructing Place, and Rituals of Existence.

Each section includes its share of big names - Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, Gordon Parks, Lorna Simpson, and Faith Ringgold are typical examples - but big names aren't really the point, which is refreshing.

Museum educator Richard Watson, who installed the show, made a pointed observation about it that's key to its appeal: It is devoid of conflict, hostility, or polemical posturing.

It is a body of work that celebrates the importance of community and family relationships, the significance of place in black life, and the wide range of aesthetic strategies that black artists have used, particularly abstraction.

"This is one of the most inspirational shows we've done in a long time," Watson said. I agree, and not because the art is sentimental or maudlin but because generally it communicates the variety, strength, and vitality of the African American experience.

Read the entire article on the Philly.com Website.
09.27.11 Posing Beauty opens at USC
Posing Beauty in African American Culture at USC Fisher Museum of Art
On view from September 7-December 3, 2011

Visit the USC Fisher Museum of Art website for more information.

Event: Posing Beauty Posing Questions
Tuesday, October 4, 2011 : 5:00pm to 6:30pm University Park Campus, USC Fisher Museum of Art (HAR)
Contact: Vanessa Jorion, 213-740-4561
E-mail: fmoa@usc.edu
Free
09.02.11 "How Has Life Changed Since 9/11: Works by Faculty and Staff"

NYU’s Department of Photography and Imaging to Present the Exhibition “How Has Life Changed Since 9/11: Works by Faculty and Staff"

An exhibition of approximately 70 works created by the faculty and staff of the Department of Photography & Imaging in the Kanbar Institute of Film and Television at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts will open September 6 and remain on view through October 8, 2011. The exhibition embraces a wide array of perspectives and media with works ranging from black-and-white and color photographs and scholarly publications to net art, video, and other multimedia. This year, a number of works address the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001 while the exhibition as a whole offers contemporary positions on the natural and constructed landscape, portraiture, the public domain, healing, memory, and politics.

How Has Life Changed Since 9/11 will be on view at 721 Broadway and is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, and noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays in the Gulf+Western Gallery (main floor, rear of lobby) and the Department of Photography & Imaging Gallery (8th floor), where selected works will remain on view through November 19. The exhibition is open to the public and admission is free. A photo ID is required when entering the building. For further information, call 212.998.1930, or visit www.photo.tisch.nyu.edu.

The 2011-2012 faculty and staff are M. Liz Andrews, Matthew Baum, Michael Berlin, Wafaa Bilal, Derrick Biney-Amissah, Terry Boddie, Kalia Brooks, Mark Bussell, Edgar Castillo, Irene Cho, Sam Contis, Yolanda Cuomo, Erika deVries, Erin Donnelly, Thomas Drysdale, Cate Fallon, Nichole Frocheur, Eduardo Gonzalez, Melissa Harris, Liesje Hodgson, Mark R. Jenkinson, Whitney Johnson, Brian E. Jones, Elizabeth Kilroy, Peter Lucas, Susan Meiselas, Editha Mesina, Kristi Norgaard, Lorie Novak, Paul Owen, Christopher Phillips, Shelley Rice, Fred Ritchin, Joseph Rodriguez, Brian Young, Cheryl Yun and Deborah Willis, Ph.D., Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging.

Event Date and Time:
September 6, 2011 – October 8, 2011
10 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, and noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays

Location:
Gulf+Western Gallery (main floor, rear of lobby) and the Department of Photography & Imaging Gallery (8th floor)
721 Broadway
New York, NY 10003
08.26.11 What Matters Now? Proposals for a New Front Page

Ten years post-9/11, at a time when we are more overloaded with information than ever but cannot access it in a coherent manner, Aperture will create a visual café for collective social engagement with the question: What Matter’s Now? and turn it into an evolving exhibition space. During a two-week period Aperture will turn itself “inside out,” letting participants engage in the editorial process of weighing questions, ideas, and images, and proposing conceptual and curatorial solutions. Both invited guests and gallery visitors will be asked to participate. The exhibition What Matters Now? Proposals for a New Front Page will combine the crowd sourcing of images and ideas with the curatorial engagement of six experienced individuals, each hosting a table and a conversation within the space, where on corresponding walls each group will present its proposals for the contents of a ‘New Front Page’. Hosts include a variety of visual image specialists: Wafaa Bilal, Melissa Harris, Stephen Mayes, Joel Meyerowitz, Fred Ritchin (who conceptualized this project) and Deborah Willis.

Read more about the exhibition on Aperture's website HERE.
07.07.11 Posing Beauty Posing Questions at USC

Join us for a lively conversation examining and challenging conventional perspectives on identity, beauty, cosmopolitanism and community in Africa and the African diaspora. The event will be presented in conjunction with the exhibition Posing Beauty in African American Culture, on display at the USC Fisher Museum of Art from September 7 through December 3.

Moderated by Deborah Willis, curator of the Posing Beauty exhibition and chair of photography and imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, the panel will feature artist Carrie Mae Weems, Los Angeles County Museum of Art curator Franklin Sirmans and USC history professor Robin D. G. Kelley. They will consider various artistic, theoretical and regional perspectives about aesthetics and the politics of Black beauty. They will also encourage the audience to conduct diverse visual readings of the portraits in the exhibition.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011 : 5:00pm
University Park Campus
Ronald Tutor Campus Center (TCC)
Grand Ballroom

Admission is free.

Reception to follow.

Click HERE to find out more about the event on the Vision & Voices site.
06.10.11 Upcoming Lecture at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

Deb Willis will be speaking at the 2011 NEH Summer Institute “The Role of Place in African-American Biography,” at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, on June 30th.

More info to follow but you can read about the NEH Summer Institute on the MCLA website HERE.
05.09.11 Sony World Photography Awards 2011

Just back from the World Photography Festival London. Deb Willis, along with Eder Chiodetto, Roger Tooth, Simon Norfolk, and Shizuka Yokomizo, selected Louis Boulet from École Nationale Supérieure Louis Lumière, France, as the winner of the Student Focus Competition for the Sony World Photography Awards 2011.

The exhibition is on display May 22, 2011.

To read more about the competition and to view the work click HERE.
04.08.11 NCMA LECTURE + DISCUSSION

Photography as a Resistive Medium?
Sunday, April 10 | 2:30 pm | East Building, Museum Auditorium

Photographer Hank Willis Thomas and his mother, photographer and art historian Dr. Deborah Willis, explore the roots of African American photography and discuss how Thomas’s work in 30 Americans illuminates corporate America’s historical appropriation of “blackness.”
04.01.11 Beauty and Fashion: The Black Portrait Symposium at NYU

NYU's Department of Photography and Imaging presented "Beauty and Fashion: The Black Portrait Symposium" this weekend on the university's Washington Square Park campus.

The two-day symposium was hosted by department chair Dr. Deborah Willis who's most recent book, Posing Beauty: African American Images from 1890s to the Present, served as a fitting entry point to the discourse around the widely attended event. The day opened with remarks from Harvard University's Dr. Henry Louis Gates, who further contextualized the portrait tradition throughout the global black experience. The keynote speech was given by Dr. Richard Powell of Duke University, and author of Cutting a Figure: Fashioning Black Portraiture. Read more on NYU or Black Voices.
03.09.11 Lorna Simpson + Deb Willis at Brooklyn Museum

Thursday, March 10, 2011 at 7 p.m.
Brooklyn Museum, Martha A. and Robert S. Rubin Pavilion, 1st Floor

Join Lorna Simpson, artist and photographer, and Deborah “Deb” Willis, MacArthur Fellow and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, for a conversation about Simpson’s newest body of work, Gathered, and how women behind and in front of the camera have found ways to become the object and subject of historical debates focusing on desire and beauty. Tickets, which include Museum admission, can be purchased at www.brownpapertickets.com for $10; $6 for members and cultural colleagues. Seating is limited, and advance ticket purchase is recommended.
04.02.08 To be Black in Pittsburgh

|http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/to-be-black-in-pittsburgh/Content?oid=1207464|According to Charles "Teenie" Harris and Ron K. Brown
by Byron Woods at The Independent Weekly.|

You never know exactly when eternity is looking in on you through the pupil of a camera lens. Or what part of it is, for that matter.

If the waitress on the lunch shift at the Crawford Grill in Pittsburgh could have somehow known, 60 years later, that not only scholars and artists but thousands of people in dance audiences would be scrutinizing the photograph Charles "Teenie" Harris took of her at work—would she have kept that same bemused (and ever-so-slightly exasperated) expression on her face?

I like to think so. A waitress suffers many an unorthodox request in her line of work without a break in stride; since people bring everything else with them into a restaurant, a small percentage of them involve a camera. Go ahead, take your shot and my time both, she could be thinking: That jerk in the corner deserves to wait a little longer for his burger and fries.

Her image is included in the touring exhibition Rhapsody in Black and White, at Duke's Center for Documentary Studies through April 9. It also appeared in choreographer Ronald K. Brown's evening-length work One-Shot, which his dance company, Evidence, performed in Page Auditorium Friday night.

If you look close enough, the waitress' picture and the others in both exhibitions convey a lot about mid-century Pittsburgh and the African-American community that worked and lived—and celebrated, worshipped, protested and created—there at the time.

The photos also say a lot about the man taking the picture: the justifiably celebrated news, fashion and portrait photographer whose massive body of work, some 80,000 images, is now housed at the Carnegie Museum of Art.

W.E.B. DuBois once wrote that all art is propaganda, notes curator Deborah Willis in her essay accompanying the photography exhibit, as she asserts that Harris "used the photographic image to promote positive aspects of the black race." And only the first glance at a number of pictures here is enough to validate the quote from freelance photographer Greg Lanier that Willis includes in her text: "There's a reason that he had all the access that he did. People trusted him, and they knew they would be portrayed in a good light and not exploited."

A man takes his ease, leaning back with a satisfied smile and a cigarette in one hand in a barber's chair at the Crystal Billiard Parlor. In another shot, an unidentified elderly woman simply beams with love and pride, seated in an upholstered chair, surrounded by kin or loved ones. In a third, a young man in his 30s, part of a group at a bar, looks at the photographer with what appears to be a combination of confidence, accomplishment and gratitude. In all of these and more it's quite clear, as Willis notes, that Harris portrayed his subjects at various social gatherings "as a participant, not an observer." Clearly, he was a cultural insider, shooting from the inside out.

And yet, on second glance, his work is not as uncritical as the words above might suggest. For if Harris documents the fine clothing and ease of racketeer—and philanthropist—Gus Greenlee and his entourage, his camera also captures the planks of the boardwalk street and the clapboard building behind them. In another, Mary Louise Harris models a tweed suit and polka dot blouse in a glamour photograph; her alligator-skin pumps contrast with a grimy oil spill on the sidewalk just behind her left foot.

Two children smile in their Sunday best, clutching Easter baskets still wrapped in cellophane, standing on a city sidewalk that is cracked and stained. A chipped staircase leading to a weedy, vacant lot stands adjacent to the assembled men and women of the Rodman Street Baptist Church—while a fiercely grinning kid at the right stands with his suit hanging completely off one shoulder, his nose wrinkled at the man who takes his picture.

The tragedy implicit in three matched coffins, stopped on the way to the hearses in front of West's Funeral Home, is unconsciously framed by the business immediately next door: Lew's Loan Office, whose storefront banners boast of watches for $8 and suits for $12, above the sign "We take pawn."

In the backstage photos of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and Lena Horne we also see the metal pipes, painted-over electrical junction boxes and nicked wooden mirror frames that attest to the work—and decidedly unglamorous tech—it took to make them look good on stage.

Let's be clear: These are not imperfections in otherwise pristine photography. To the contrary: They provide the essential frame for Harris' work. They indicate the degree to which the beauty and the confidence he documented constituted a triumph over the inner city's ever-present realities. It's clear these subjects haven't effortlessly achieved their greatness in some sterile Shangri-La. They have forged, cleaned and perfected it, with some doing, out of a gritty and resistant urban landscape.

The name of Ron K. Brown's dance should ring a bell with local dance-goers. One-Shot: First Glance, which the American Dance Festival presented here in July 2006, wasn't actually the world premiere it was touted as at the time; in view of the finished product, the 2006 work was a brief peek at the work's first few minutes—minus the all-important context of Harris' projected photographs.

But if the grit of Harris' photos give his work authenticity, that's also the quality that is probably the most missing in Brown's choreography. Throughout One-Shot, Brown and his dancers seem preoccupied with lifting the people of Harris' community back into memory, literally at times. With bare hands and sinews of shoulders, they pull up from the ground, and lift down from above, some ineffable quality of the depicted people that they then clasp to their chests.

It's a moving, effective gesture. It also occurs far too often in Brown's choreography to maintain its initial impact.

The sumptuous beauty of Keon Thoulouis' sinuous first solo—and a number of other moments in One-Shot—convey the triumphs of Harris' subjects, while the intense close-ups of his photographs get at the fragility of the documents. Jazzy tributes spice up the early- to mid-work passages.

But a sameness descends upon the later sequences in the work. When photo designer Clifton Taylor clips the heads from too many of Harris' pictures—while leaving out the world those heads existed in—a lot of important information goes with them.

When One-Shot focuses too much on faces, it leaves too many of the rich photographic stories Harris was famous for telling either unarticulated or off-stage entirely, in a tribute that is sumptuous but ultimately still a little empty.

E-mail Byron Woods at bwoods@indyweek.com.

Web Editor's note: Charles "Teenie" Harris' archive of nearly 80,000 photographic negatives is currently being cataloged and scanned through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and may be searched on the Carnegie Museum of Art's Web site at www.cmoa.org/teenie/info.asp.
04.01.08 Black Womanhood: Icons, Images, and Ideologies of the African Body

This spring, the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College will open a major traveling exhibition that explores the historical roots of a charged icon in contemporary art--the black female body. Black Womanhood: Icons, Images, and Ideologies of the African Body was organized by the Hood Museum of Art and will be on view from April 1 to August 10, 2008. The exhibition will explore the complex perpetuation of icons and stereotypes of black womanhood through the display of over one hundred sculptures, prints, postcards, photographs, paintings, textiles, and video installations by artists from Africa, Europe, America, and the Caribbean. Presented in three separate but intersecting sections, Black Womanhood reveals three different perspectives--the traditional African, Western colonial, and contemporary global--that have contributed to current ideas about black womanhood. Providing an in-depth look at how images of the black female body have been created and used differently in Africa and the West, the exhibition explores themes such as ideals of beauty, fertility and sexuality, maternity and motherhood, and women's identities and social roles. Collectively, these overlapping perspectives penetrate the complex and interwoven relationships between Africa and the West, male and female, and past and present, all of which have contributed to the inscription of meaning onto the black female body.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a 370-page illustrated catalogue published by the Hood Museum of Art in association with the University of Washington Press in April 2008. Curator and contributing editor Barbara Thompson has compiled essays on representations of and ideologies about the black female body as presented through traditional African, colonial, and contemporary perspectives and written by artists, curators, and scholars including Ifi Amadiume, Ayo Abiétou Coly, Christraud Geary, Enid Schildkrout, Kimberly Wallace-Sanders, Carla Williams, and Deborah Willis. More than two hundred historical and contemporary images illustrate the essays that reveal the multiple levels through which social, cultural, and political ideologies have shaped iconic images of and understandings about black women as exotic Others, erotic fantasies, and super-maternal Mammies.

To read more about the exhibition visit Artdaily.org HERE.