Centering on Moments of Familiar Intimacy, Baldwin Lee’s Photos Capture Black Life Throughout the ’80s American South
In 1983, Baldwin Lee took a road trip through the American South that blossomed into a seven-year project capturing images from Black Southern Americans’ everyday lives. The photographer’s angles and perspectives of landscapes, materials, and gathering spaces are deeply considered. An image feels lived-in, as if it captures the perspective of someone who has experienced the setting over and over again from several angles and with sentimentality. The works embody a candid familiarity.
Some of Lee’s portraits, on the other hand, are hauntingly intimate. For example, in “Nashville, Tennessee” (1983), four Black children stand hand-in-hand in front of an exact replica of the Greek Parthenon in the dead of night. The grandness of the columns in the darkness blows a chill, and the gaze of the innocent, wide-eyed children holding onto each other sends goosebumps along with it. Other characteristics of Lee’s images include the rich textures of magnetic gazes and body language—like the fold of an arm while relaxed or the posture of each person in relation to their environment—as seen in “Vicksburg, Mississippi” (1983), in which an older boy’s stern face and muscular build carries a smaller and more confident version of himself on his hip. The pair’s kinship is clear, but there are enough subtleties in the image to leave a sense of wonder about the worldviews and relationships between each person.
Thirty of Lee’s photographs now on view at the Howard Greenburg Gallery are snippets of an archive of 10,000 black-and-white negatives, a greater number of which are now available in a self-titled monograph published by Hunters Point Press. See his work at the New York space through November 12.
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For Jamaica-born, Miami-based artist Paul Lewin, painting portraits of resilient, unafraid women is a way to process and manifest a lineage. “My work tells the story of me,” he says in a statement. “Each of my paintings is created in a process similar to dreaming. Meditation and dreams were very important tools in the creative process of my ancestors. I like to think of it as traveling inside to the place where my inspirations, emotions, genetic memory, and unconscious thoughts all collide.”
Working in neutral tones and colors evocative of the tropics, Lewin envisions figures within the speculative realm of Afrofuturism. Geometric motifs and symbols reference diasporic folklore and ritual and adorn the subjects’ faces and torsos. Hoods of fur, snake-like coils, and feathers shroud their bodies, using organic details to frame their silhouettes and convey the intrinsic connections between humanity and nature. Rendered on canvas or wood panel, each work is rooted in the transfer of energy and how legacies are passed through generations.
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In Deconstruct, Lagos-based artist Arinze Stanley (previously) acknowledges the children and teens who will come to define Nigeria’s politics and culture in the next few years. “I believe the youths are the building blocks of every nation,” he says. “I feel most compelled to project the positive image of our youths through this body of work in my attempt to dismantle the stereotype around the Nigerian youth. I believe our leaders of tomorrow are the biggest assets of today.”
Working in graphite and charcoal on paper, Stanley renders hyperrealistic portraits of earnest figures often with faint lines bisecting their faces. Portions of their torsos reveal a brick backdrop, suggesting that their consciousness and presences in the world are still taking shape. More dense works like “Fruits of Labour” draw on art historical motifs traditionally associated with power and resiliency, portraying figures in glorified poses with weapons and arms raised in protest. The incredibly detailed portraits rail against the turbulent political landscape of Nigeria, the world’s perception of the country, and its issues with police brutality, the latter of which the artist generously speaks to in a 2021 interview with Colossal.
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The striking portraits of South African photographer and activist Zanele Muholi (previously) are easily recognizable. Shot in stark black-and-white, the images utilize heavy contrast and center on single subjects dressed in elaborate garments. These wearables are sculptural in construction and made from commonplace objects: clothespins are strung together as a necklace, dried grasses splay outward like the brim of a hat, and rolls of toilet paper cascade over a figure’s shoulders.
Muholi often works in self-portraiture and is known for photographing Black queer subjects as a way to explore the radical nature of identity and as a means of celebration and respect. “The work that I produce is meant to be for every person,” they say in an interview. “It could be a teacher. It could be a mother whose child is queer and wants to have a reference point to show their kids and say that you are not alone. And it could be for LGBTI people themselves to understand their worthiness.” Muholi views all of their works as collaborations with the sitters, who often gaze at the camera with direct, empowered expressions.
Many of the photos shown here are part of the group exhibition Dig Where You Stand, which is on view through October 9 at Savannah Centre for Contemporary Art in Tamale, Ghana. A project of African Artists’ Foundation, the group show engages with questions of decolonization and restitution and will travel to Lagos, Lusanga, and Lisbon in the coming months. Until then, find more from Muholi on Instagram.
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Since its inception, photography has dominated the way we visually remember and describe the world around us and where we are within it. It has tapped into desire, joy, grief, and superstition, such as in the Victorian era, when some believed it could be a channel between people and spirits in the afterlife. In portraiture, photography immortalizes its subjects and has transformed artists’ ability to express themselves and tell stories. For Ethiopia-born, South Sudanese photographer Atong Atem, who is based in Melbourne, the medium enables a salient exploration of the African diaspora and migrant narratives by focusing on the relationship between figures and the interior spaces they inhabit.
Sometimes referred to as Naarm, Melbourne comprises the traditional lands of the Kulin Nation, itself a collective of five Aboriginal tribes. Paralleling her exploration of the nature of place, culture, and postcolonial narratives, Atem’s series of powerful self-portraits focus on how perceptions of identity are shaped through relationships between place, dress, and custom and the way they change over time or merge when people move. Occasionally referencing art history, such as “Blue Face” modeled after Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” (c. 1665), her works also nod to groundbreaking 20th century photographers Malick Sidibe, Philip Kwame Apagya, and Seydou Keita, who expanded traditions of studio portraiture. In a similar spirit, Atem explores intersections between place, people, and time to create a visual representation of the connection to culture.
This year, the artist’s first book of photographs, titled Surat (Sudanese Arabic for “snapshots”), was commissioned by Photo Australia. The second edition is due to be published by Perimeter next month, and you can find more of the artist’s work on her website and Instagram. (via ART RUBY)
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Historic Photographs in ‘Love Immortal’ Celebrate the Timeless Relationship Between Dogs and Their People
After the first known photograph was taken in 1826 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce from the upstairs window of his home in Burgundy, France, the world became enthralled by the newfound ability to capture their loved ones—and their furry friends—for posterity. Love Immortal, a new book by antique dealer and collector Anthony Cavo, underscores the timeless and universal recognition that, to many, dogs are a fundamental part of the family.
When he was seven years old, the author began trawling New York City neighborhoods with his red wagon on the hunt for treasures. A chip off the old block—his father was also an antique dealer—Cavo grew up with a deep-seated love and appreciation for vintage objects, especially photographs, and for more than fifty years, he has been compiling an incredible catalogue of images, including hundreds of portraits of dogs and their doting owners.
The new volume published by Harper Design features more than 200 photographs made between 1840 and 1930 that span the medium’s technological spectrum, from Daguerrotypes to Ambrotypes, tintypes to cartes de visite, to sepia and black-and-white images. Portraying beloved terriers, retrievers, or hounds as expressive and lively as if they could leap off the table, run out of the frame, or—doing what dogs do best—doze off at any moment. You can find a copy at Bookshop.org. (via PetaPixel)
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Editor's Picks: Craft
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.