In this lecture, Prof. Willis explores the transformation of the black image in photography. At the turn of the twentieth century, African Americans created a new and revised self-image through the medium of photography, challenging predominantly negative representations. Prof. Willis examines the phenomena of racial uplift in imagery, the body as an art subject, the black female body, and the works of contemporary black photographers.
Deborah Willis has pursued a dual professional career as an art photographer and as one of the nation’s leading historians of African American photography and curator of African American culture. In 2001, she was selected as a MacArthur Fellow. Exhibitions of her work include: Regarding Beauty, University of Wisconsin 2003; Embracing Eatonville, Light Works, Syracuse, NY 2003-4; HairStories, Scottsdale Contemporary Art Museum, Scottsdale, AZ 2003-4; and The Comforts of Home, Hand Workshop Art Center, Richmond, VA, 1999. Notable projects include The Black Female Body A Photographic History (with Carla Williams), Temple University Press, Philadephia, 2002; and A Small Nation of People: W.E.B. DuBois and the Photographs from the Paris Exposition, Amistad Press, 2003; Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers – 1840 to the Present, New York: W.W. Norton; Visual Journal: Photography in Harlem and DC in the Thirties and Forties, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC, 1996; Picturing Us: African American Identity in Photography, The New Press, New York, NY, 1994; and VANDERZEE: The Portraits of James VanDerZee, Harry Abrams Publishing, New York, NY, 1993.