PICTURING US by Deborah Willis

PICTURING US

African American Identity in Photography
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A provocative exploration of how African-Americans have, and more often have not, participated in the creation of their image through photographs. Merely ``to illuminate'' is Willis's (Black Photographs 19401988, not reviewed) stated purpose in this collection of essays. The contributors seek to ``direct outward'' the gaze that historically has been directed at them. Some of these pieces (each inspired by a photograph selected by the writer) are intimate and highly personal: Edward P. Jones concludes that, if he'd met his mother as the stylish young woman she was on the day she had her picture taken, he'd have advised her to choose a life without him and his father (``Save yourself, I would have told her''); LisÇ Hamilton examines her feelings of rejection by her white mother and grandmother. Addressing a variety of subjects--from the stereotypical portrayal of black men as criminals and black women as poverty-stricken mothers with too many children, to the hegemony of ``good'' hair--these pieces provide a historical base from which to view the depiction of African-Americans in today's media. The subjects of the photographs range from two lynched men and an ancestor labeled ``¨N, ¨I, ´W'' (one-quarter Negro, one-quarter Indian, one-half White), to a variety of family snapshots. The juxtaposition of these images and histories magnifies the close intertwining of family and cultural history. Moving beyond mere explanations of the photographs, these essays lead the reader to question assumptions about what is being seen, how images are created, and for whose consumption they are produced. Angela Davis documents her lack of agency over her image and explains that 25 years after her trial what she is remembered for is not her politics but her Afro (Vibe magazine recently ran a '70s nostalgic fashion spread that termed Davis ``a fashion revolutionary''). A startling, revealing look at photographic representation and its effect on African-American identity and consciousness.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 1-56584-107-7
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: New Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1994




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