Late in the film, Harris excerpts an old interview of the seminal black artist and photographer, Roy DeCarava. DeCarava explains the power of images thusly: “When you look at a photograph, it’s happening now. It’s not then.”
And therein lies perhaps the biggest strength of ‘Through A Lens Darkly’. It shows us the disturbing lynch photographs and minstrel illustrations in all their startling, horrific detail. But it also counterbalances them with countless photos of black people by black people, pictures from family albums all the way to the professional work of some of the most seminal black photographers in America.
There’s an understanding that the lynch photos, the regal pictures of Booker T. Washington and Sojourner Truth, the images of Weems staring straight into the camera in her Kitchen Table Series, all lie on a continuum. They’re happening now. And its through these images we’re privy to a secret history of the black photographer and the black subject, a history reaching far back into the past and shining a light on those who paved the way for everyone, all of us, to affirm our own identities through the images we take of ourselves and each other.
Review: ‘Through A Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People’ by Zeba Blay (via 2brwngrls)