march 2019

31mar1:00 pm2:30 pmDynamic conversation: Film screening and talk back with Dr. Deborah Willis


Event Details

1 p.m.

The Allentown Art Museum is honored to present the film Through a Lens Darkly, followed immediately by a talk back with artist and producer Dr. Deborah Willis. The film was inspired by the book Reflections in Black by Dr. Willis and explores the role of photography in shaping African-American identity. After the screening, Dr. Willis will respond to questions from the audience related to her career as an artist and cultural worker as well as to the history of art and photography as it relates her work and the work of other artists featured in the film. Free

Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People is the first documentary to explore the role of photography in shaping the identity, aspirations, and social emergence of African Americans from slavery to the present. Bringing to light the hidden and unknown photos shot by both professional and vernacular African American photographers, the film opens a window into the lives of black families, whose experiences and perspectives are often missing from the traditional historical canon. African Americans historically embraced the medium as a way to subvert popular stereotypes as far back as the Civil War era, with Frederick Douglass photographed in a suit and black soldiers posing proudly in their uniforms. These images show a much more complex and nuanced view of American culture and its founding ideals.

The film features the works of esteemed photographic artists Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson, Anthony Barboza, Hank Willis Thomas, Coco Fusco, Clarissa Sligh, James Van Der Zee, Gordon Parks, and many others.


Deborah Willis, Ph.D., is University Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University and has an affiliated appointment with the College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Social & Cultural Analysis, Africana Studies, where she teaches courses on Photography & Imaging, iconicity, and cultural histories visualizing the black body, women, and gender. Her research examines photography’s multifaceted histories; visual culture; the photographic history of Slavery and Emancipation; contemporary women photographers; and beauty.

She received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. Willis is the author of Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present and co-author of The Black Female Body: A Photographic HistoryEnvisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery; and Michelle Obama: The First Lady in Photographs (both titles a NAACP Image Award Winner). Professor Willis’s curated exhibitions include In Pursuit of Beauty at Express Newark; Let Your Motto Be Resistance: African American Portraits at the International Center of Photography; and Reframing Beauty: Intimate Moments at Indiana University.

Since 2006 she has co-organized thematic conferences exploring imaging the black body in the West such as the conference titled Black Portraiture[s], which was held in Johannesburg in 2016. She has appeared and consulted on media projects, including documentary films such as Through a Lens Darkly and Question Bridge: Black Males, a transmedia project, which received the ICP Infinity Award 2015, and American Photography, PBS Documentary.

Deborah Willis (by Alice Proujansky)


(Sunday) 1:00 pm - 2:30 pm

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