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Regenia A. Perry, Camara Dia Holloway, Christina Knight, Dele Jegede, Bridget R. Cooks and Jenifer P. Borum

Term used to describe art made by Americans of African descent. While the crafts of African Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries continued largely to reflect African artistic traditions (see Africa, §VIII), the earliest fine art made by professional African American artists was in an academic Western style (see fig.).


Camara Dia Holloway

photographer, was born in New York City to Virginia Allen, a dressmaker who migrated from the British Virgin Islands in 1900, and an unidentified father. James attended Dewitt Clinton High School, where he discovered photography through the school's camera club, the Amateur Cinema League. The school was fertile ground for several members of the upcoming Harlem Renaissance, including the poet Countee Cullen, whose first published piece appeared in the school magazine, the Magpie. The artist Charles Alston also developed his talents as the art editor for the Magpie and leader of the art club. In 1923 Allen began a four year apprenticeship at Stone Van Dresser and Company a white owned illustration firm where he received additional instruction in photography Louis Collins Stone the firm s owner and a portrait painter and his wife seem to have taken a personal interest in Allen and ...


Joshunda Sanders

photographer, artist, and educator, was born in Harlem, New York City, the only child of Andrew DeCarava and Elfreda Ferguson. DeCarava never knew his father; his mother worked as a clerical worker for the Work Projects Administration.

Elfreda DeCarava arrived in New York from Jamaica as the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North was transforming Harlem into a predominantly African American community. She tried to foster her son's creativity as a single mother when he was a boy by getting him a violin and an expensive velvet short suit, in which he said he used to run through Harlem to get to practice. While DeCarava never became a violinist, he became actively interested in and a part of a wide range of artistic endeavors from sketching to movies.

As an eight year old boy he used chalk or pieces of Plaster ...


George Lewis

athlete, photographer, and poet, was born Gilbert Heron in Kingstown, Jamaica. Though he was a talented photographer, particularly of sporting events, and a notable poet, publishing a collection entitled I Shall Wish Just for You as late as 1992, Heron's fame derives from neither. He remains best known as a pioneering nonwhite sportsman in the United Kingdom in the 1950s and as father to the eclectic, prolific, and hugely influential jazz musician and wordsmith Gil Scott-Heron.

Heron came to attention as an association football or soccer player for the Detroit Corinthians although he had previously turned out for the Canadian Air Force Detroit Wolverines and Chicago Sting Standing just below five feet ten inches and weighing just under 178 pounds Heron had the speed and agility that gave him the perfect characteristics for football s target man and goal scorer the center forward In the ...


Scott Yanow

jazz bassist, was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi. His mother played piano and organ and directed the church choir. Hinton moved with his family to Chicago when he was eleven years old. Two years later he began studying violin, sticking with it for four years. While attending Chicago's Wendell Phillips High Schools, he learned to play bass horn, cello, tuba, and string bass. He went to Crane Junior College (now Malcolm X College) from 1929 to 1930.

By then Hinton was already working in Chicago-area clubs, doubling on bass and tuba; he would give up the latter within a couple of years. He gained important early experience working with Freddie Keppard, Jabbo Smith, Art Tatum, Fate Marable, Erskine Tate's orchestra, and the pianist Tiny Parham, making his recording debut with Parham in 1930. His main job between 1931 and 1936 was with the ...


Donna M. Wells

photographer, was born in Washington, D.C., into a middle-class family. His father was a physician, and his mother was an educator. In the 1930s he attended Dunbar High School, where his classmates included future photographers Harrison Allen and brothers Bobby and George Scurlock, sons of prominent African American photographer Addison Scurlock. Allen recalled that on several occasions the boys walked from school to Scurlock's photography studio at Ninth and U Streets to watch him work. This sparked their interest in pursuing photography, first as a hobby, then as a career. The Scurlocks later took over their father's studio, and Allen became a photographer for the Department of Labor.

McNeill entered Howard University as a pre-med student but kept up his skills by photographing campus events, particularly celebrity visitors to the university. When Olympic track star Jesse Owens made a campus visit McNeill snapped a picture of ...


Jason King

filmmaker, was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the eldest son of Sally Alvis and Gordon Parks Sr., the latter an award-winning photojournalist, author, composer, and filmmaker. Born less than a year into his parents' marriage, Gordon Jr. was nicknamed Butch as a newborn by his maternal grandfather, Joe Alvis. “There was not too much I could give my first three children being a waiter on a railway,” recalled Gordon Parks Sr. in the 2001 film documentary Half Past Autumn. In 1940 the Parks family moved to Chicago. There Gordon Jr. spent much of his childhood while his father forged his career. Parks developed a passion for riding horses, which became a lifelong interest.

When he was sixteen Parks moved to Paris, where his father had been assigned for two years by Life magazine In Europe he developed a keen interest in the fine arts also cultivating ...


Lisa E. Rivo

photographer, filmmaker, author, and composer, was born Gordon Roger Alexander Buchanan Parks in the small prairie town of Fort Scott, Kansas, to Andrew Jackson Parks, a dirt farmer, and Sarah Ross, a maid. Gordon was the youngest of fifteen children, the first five of which, he later discovered, were really half siblings, born to his father and a woman other than his mother. Parks's poor Kansas childhood, and his memories of its unbridled racism, feature prominently in his later work, especially his books “thick with those memories.” The first phase of Parks's life ended with the death of his mother in 1928. “Before the flowers on my mother s grave had wilted Parks remembered my father had me on a train to my sister in Minnesota I ran into some hell there Russell 145 Within a month of his arrival in Minneapolis ...


Carla Williams

As subjects, photographers, and workers in the photographic field, black women have participated in the medium of photography since its introduction in 1839. Immediately after the announcement of this democratic new medium, photography gained a particular stronghold in the United States, a young nation eager to see itself pictured. To date, scant evidence of black women photographers in the nineteenth century has been uncovered, although one can reasonably hypothesize that black women occupied some of the same roles that white women did in early photographic endeavors—as studio attendant, the person who would prepare subjects for their sittings; as darkroom assistant, helping the photographer to prepare and process his plates; or as photo finisher, adding hand coloring and other enhanced effects to the finished plate or print.

As photographic subjects however black women were very savvy about the new medium and its powers of communication Probably the most famous relationship ...


Jacqueline M. Smith

African Americans began producing and exhibiting photographs the year after photography's inception in 1839. Long-standing creators and consumers of visual technologies, blacks have used photography to document and explore the diversity of African American experiences.

The sociopolitical dynamics of legalized slavery, antiblack sentiments, and economic expense limited enslaved persons’ opportunities to capture or commission their likenesses—the visual rendering of the original subject or what we now consider a photograph. Despite institutional limitations placed on blacks’ physical and economic agency, free persons of color such as Sojourner Truth (c. 1797–1883), an antiracism activist and feminist suffragist, and Frederick Douglass (1818–1895), a prominent abolitionist and newspaper editor, circulated their photographic likenesses in the form of cartes de visites and cabinet-card portraits. Similarly circumventing U.S. racial segregation, James Presley Ball (1825–1905), Augustus Washington (1820–1875 and the Goodridge brothers active 1860s 1880s were among the ...


Kobena Mercer

Photography has flourished in Africa since 1839, when the vice regent of Egypt, Khedive Mehmet, experimented with equipment imported from France, just months after Louis Daguerre publicized the invention of the silver-plate process. As a result of interaction with Europeans in coastal cities, Africans acquired technical skills that led to the development of photographic studios in the 1860s. A wide range of regionally distinctive traditions arose during the twentieth century and African photographers have revealed a unique outlook in photojournalism, portraiture, and artistic expression. Diverse insights into African social and cultural life are shown in the reportage of Peter Magubane and David Goldblatt in South Africa; in the French West African portraiture style of Seydou Keita and in the art of contemporary African expatriates in the West such as Touhami Ennadre from Morocco and Rotimi Fani Kayode from Nigeria In contrast to the selective depiction of the continent ...


Deborah Willis

The first known African Americans to practice the art and business of photography were Jules Lion, James Presley Ball, John B. Bailey, Augustus Washington, and the Goodridge Brothers, between 1840 and 1850. They worked as daguerreotypists, documentarians, artists, and studio photographers. The larger American public was fascinated with the daguerreotype as soon as Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851) publicized the process in France in 1839. The French inventor Nicéphore Niépce (1765–1833) produced the earliest extant photographic image, made by a camera obscura in 1826. After the death of Niépce, Daguerre successfully fixed an image and announced to the Paris press his discovery, which he named after himself, the daguerreotype, in January of 1839.

Newspapers in the spring of 1839 published accounts of Americans experimenting with the daguerreotype process. On August 19, 1839 Daguerre publicly announced the process ...


Amalia K. Amaki

photographer, was born Herman Polk in Bessemer, Alabama, the son of Jacob Prentice Polk, a laborer and mineworker, and Christine Romelia Ward, a laborer and seamstress. He grew up with three older sisters, Mayme, Freddie, and Georgia, and was eleven when his father died of black-lung disease in 1909. He enrolled in the Hard School (junior high) and later attended the Tuggle Institute, a boarding school for African American boys in Birmingham. He returned to Bessemer in 1913 to help support his family financially, working as a presser for William A. Freeman, a local African American tailor.

In 1916 Polk assumed his father's name Prentice. Inspired by the work of the painter Vincent Van Gogh Polk entered Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute Tuskegee University as an evening student intent on studying painting but was enrolled by the dean in a house painting ...


Donna M. Wells

photographer and entrepreneur, was born in the Freedmen's Hospital in Washington, D.C., the son of Addison Scurlock, a successful photographer and the proprietor of Scurlock Studios, and Mamie Estelle Fearing, the receptionist and business manager of Scurlock Studios. George and his three siblings grew up in Washington, not far from their father's studio, which was founded in 1911. As young men, George and his brother Robert Scurlock apprenticed with their father and developed into accomplished photographers, later taking over the family business, which they operated for more than four decades. Scurlock Studios became one of the nation's most successful black businesses. George attended Garrison Elementary and Garnett-Patterson Junior High School. All of the Scurlock children attended Dunbar High School, considered one of the top black schools in the country. Robert graduated in 1933, and Addison, who was named for his father, graduated in 1932 having ...


Makeba G. Dixon-Hill

artists who worked in photography and painting, were identical twin brothers born in Nicholasville, Kentucky, the only children of Charles Smith and Allena Smith, both sharecroppers. Raised in the rural town of Nicholasville, the Smith brothers divided their time between working in the fields alongside their parents and attending primary school. After Charles Smith took a job in the railroad industry, the family moved to Lexington, Kentucky, where Marvin and Morgan attended Paul Laurence Dunbar High School.

At Dunbar, the twins thrived, receiving special attention for their aptitude in painting and sculpture and for their skills on the football field. Through their respective jobs assisting prominent members of Lexington's white community, the Smith brothers met local photographer Matthew Archdeacon, who purchased a camera for them.

In 1933 the brothers graduated from high school they were the first members of their family to do so Although a ...


photographer and entrepreneur, was born in Lenox, Massachusetts, the second of six children of John VanDerZee and Susan Elizabeth Egberts. Part of a working-class African American community that provided services to wealthy summer residents, the VanDerZees (sometimes written Van Der Zee or Van DerZee) and their large extended family operated a laundry and bakery and worked at local luxury hotels. James played the violin and piano and enjoyed a bucolic childhood riding bicycles, swimming, skiing, and ice fishing with his siblings and cousins. He received his first camera from a mail-order catalogue just before his fourteenth birthday and taught himself how to take and develop photographs using his family as subjects. He left school that same year and began work as a hotel waiter. In 1905 he and his brother Walter moved to New York City.

James was working as an elevator operator when he met a seamstress ...


Amy Helene Kirschke

The examination of African American history and culture must necessarily include an extended exploration of the visual arts—an African American “visual vocabulary”—that examines how African Americans visually define their own collective identity and historical identity. W. E. B. Du Bois, the towering black intellectual of the twentieth century, stated that history must be explored and felt in order to know the responsibilities of the present; imagery was and is a part of that history. Past and present would meet in this imagery with frightful intensity and authentic tragedy. Art could be a means of trying to establish a new memory of the black American experience, and in doing so, discovering an identity both American and African.

Black society and white society saw the same events differently and then also recalled them differently African American visual artists had to be empowered with political rights and access to political power which ...


Jared T. Story

photojournalist and commercial photographer, was born Ernest Columbus Withers to working-class parents, Earl and Pearl Withers, in strictly segregated Memphis, Tennessee. When Withers was nine his mother died, and his father, a truck driver and driver for the postal service, married Minnie Clay. Withers credits Minnie, who was a seamstress, with helping him to develop the keen sense of detail that is evident in his photographs. Withers's first foray into photography occurred when, as a freshman at Manassas High School, he borrowed his sister's camera to photograph a visit to his school by Marva Trotter Louis, wife of the boxer Joe Louis. Withers began photographing other school and community events. He began to think seriously about photography as a profession after marrying his high school sweetheart, Dorothy Curry, in February 1942 and starting their family of eight children in 1943.

In 1943 ...