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Jennifer Lynn Headley

artist, educator, and art historian specializing in African American photographic history, was born in North Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her father, Thomas, was a police officer, and her mother, Ruth, was a hairdresser. Willis grew up with four sisters in a tight-knit and loving family. Her father, the family photographer, and his cousin (who name is not known) who owned a photographic studio, constantly took pictures of daily family life, including her mother's visual transformation of the neighborhood women as a hairdresser. Willis was mesmerized by images in the media and noted how blacks were portrayed as criminals or outsiders to the normal, suburban white family. Willis also noted that African Americans were omitted completely from history books except for references to slavery in the antebellum South. In Langston Hughes and Roy DeCarava's lyrical photo essay The Sweet Flypaper of Life (1955 Willis discovered tender images of black ...

Article

Donna M. Wells

Deborah Willis-Kennedy has successfully pursued a dual professional career. First an accomplished art photographer, she later became the nation’s leading historian of African American photography. Since the 1980s her investigation and recovery of the rich legacy of African American photography have provided an invaluable and irreplaceable resource for filling the gap in American historiography. She has curated numerous exhibitions, lectured, and published widely the contributions of African Americans to contemporary and historical photography.

Deborah Willis was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to an industrious and entrepreneurial family. Thomas Meridith Willis was born in Orange County, Virginia, and moved to Philadelphia as a teenager. He was a tailor, owned a grocery store in North Philadelphia, and was a policeman in Philadelphia for twenty-five years. Her mother, Ruth Holman was born in Philadelphia and owned her own hair salon Willis attended Walton Elementary and Roosevelt Junior High School She graduated with ...