PDN Photo of the Day

Celebrating “The Black Photographers Annual”

In 1973, when photographers Beuford Smith and Joe Crawford began working on The Black Photographers Annual, black photographers had few outlets for publishing work about ordinary black life that didn’t fit the news cycle of the day. For their first issue, Smith and Crawford gathered images from well-established photographers such as Roy DeCarava and photos the legendary James Van DerZee had made during the Harlem Renaissance. But what made The Black Photographers Annual so influential is that it gave a platform for members of the Kamoinge collective and numerous other photographers who had photographed a variety of stories and subjects. Their work explored lives and ways of looking rarely seen in national media or major art galleries. With a foreword written by an up-and-coming novelist named Toni Morrison, the first volume of The Black Photographers Annual featured 118 images, including multi-page portfolios by DeCarava, Louis Draper, Anthony Barboza, Ming Smith, Moneeta Sleet, Albert Fennar, Shawn Walker and others. The next three volumes—published in 1974, 1976 and 1980—included images by Lou Jones, Dawoud Bey, Adger W. Cowans, John Pinderhughes, Marilyn Nance, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, Eli Reed, P.H. Polk and dozens of others, plus essays written by Gordon Parks and James Baldwin.

Thanks to an arrangement with Beuford Smith, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond has digitized all four volumes and is presenting them online for two years. The museum is also showing 20 prints by several of the artists in the first issue until October 3. Titled “A Commitment to the Community,” the exhibition was curated by Sarah Eckhardt, the museum’s associate curator of modern and contemporary art. It offers only a sliver of the work shown in Volume I, but it provides a sense of its variety. Delightful street photography by Henderson and Draper, for example, is juxtaposed with contemplative scenes by Ming Smith and work by Barboza that recalls the gestural painting of the Abstract Expressionists.

According to the curator, the impulse to devote a magazine to the work of black photographers emerged from the Black Arts Movement and the Civil Rights Movement. But it was surely also inspired by the contributors’ unstoppable creativity. In the introduction to Volume I, Clayton Riley wrote, “The Black visual artist, his work for many years denied a true and complete public, develops muscle and emotional determination through years-long struggle to be, exist and work.” The images captured “an awesome vitality” that was too rarely seen by anyone outside the community. —Holly Stuart Hughes

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Gordon Parks and Ralph Ellison Tour Harlem
Dawoud Bey Returns to Harlem with a New Photographic Approach (for PDN subscribers; login required)

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  1. I remember when The Black Photographers Annual first came out. It made a considerable impression- particularly back in the day when minorities were not particularly published anywhere. Many in the photographic community were like… Whoa! How a did bunch of Black photographers (who knew there was an actual… bunch) come out with such a quality, professional product? The high quality printing and reproductions, together with the caliber of the work itself took many aback…

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