Harlem through apertures
Herb Boyd | 4/12/2011, 4:46 p.m.
A handcuffed Rev. Al Sharpton is arrested and shoved into a police paddywagon. James Baldwin and Malcolm X share a moment of conviviality; a young Elombe Brath kneels in front of a lovely contingent of afro-coiffed Grandassa models.
These are just a sample of the photos from the "Harlem Views/Diasporan Visions: The New Harlem Renaissance Photographers" exhibit currently on view at the Schomburg Center. From the early photos of Klytus Smith, who incomparably documented the turbulent '60s in Harlem to the vibrant hip-hop culture captured by Kenneth Bazemore, an ensemble of notable photographers offer some tantalizing "frozen moments" from their extensive archives.
Each photographer has his or her own style, whether working in black and white or color, whether action shots or stills, as they worked to document a Harlem that, like the rest of the city, seemed never to pause long enough to pose. Even when Beverly Terry has Kevin Powell in a close-up, he appears to be in motion, and there is no doubt about the flurry of activity that E. Lee White's camera stalks and halts. His 14 photos are the most in the collection.
What pleased this aging journalist was the number of photographers he has worked with over the years for a number of publications, such prominent eyes behind the aperture as Karl Crutchfield, Kwame Braithwaite, Azim Thomas, Hakim Mutlaq, and Bill Moore. And a few he would love to work with, including Juanita Prince Cole, Shawn Walker, and June Truesdale.
When you enter the exhibit there is a huge enlargement of Moore's wide-angle shot of the Hotel Theresa, with a festive gathering of Muslims in the foreground extending from the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building.
From this imposing photo the exhibit unfolds--no, explodes--in a veritable cavalcade of Harlem's history. Howard Cash's portrait of a young African girl is as arresting as Smith's historical frame of a protester hoisting a welcoming sign to Fidel Castro during his visit to Harlem in 1960.
Departing Chief Howard Dodson, ably assisted by Deborah Willis and Mary Yearwood, has curated a remarkable farewell gift, so to speak, and he was the first to commend State Sen. Bill Perkins and his aide, Omowale Clay (of whom there is a poignant photo speaking to a child) for respectively funding and initiating the exhibit.
"[During this] Black History Month, I am extremely proud that my Senate Office was able to bring to fruition, along with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the current historic photographer's exhibit 'Harlem Views/Diasporan Visions'--a powerful collection of photographs captured by 23 of our community's own Black photographers documenting the soul, history and vision of Black people," said Perkins. "The idea for this exhibit was born out of the sadness in the loss of one our great street photographers, Mr. Eugene 'Kwame' Gervin, who passed away in October, 2009. It was at his funeral that I remember saying in conversation with the many who were gathered '...not enough documenting [of our history] was being done, but Kwame did his part'. The conversation was continued with my staff member Omowale Clay, which turned into an assignment of time and resources and spanned a year, organizing into existence the 'New Harlem Renaissance Photographers,' and the rest is as they say, history.
"The fact that this exhibit is opening during the final leg of the Schomburg Center's director and visionary Mr. Howard Dodson's tenure at the helm of this great institution, is even more fitting.
Although I was not able to attend the opening reception Monday night, due to the critical business of the New York State Senate, I want thank my brother, George Perkins, for accepting the gifts in my name and my staff for working tirelessly with the photographers and the Schomburg to make this moving event and historic exhibit possible."
The exhibit is scheduled to stand until June, but it cries out for a brochure or a book to hold this impressive chronology of Harlem together for posterity.