On Thursday, March 31, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture opened its spring exhibition “Been Seen,” an exploration of the work of Austin Hansen and the Black gaze in photography.
Harlem-based photojournalist, studio photographer and documentarian, Austin Hansen (1910-1996) ran a photo studio on West 135th Street that doubled as a gallery and exhibition space. Hansen began photographing in nightclubs, freelanced for the Amsterdam News, trained as a combat/war photographer in the Navy, and continued to document community life in Harlem until his death in 1996.
Hansen’s work captured the Black community at its most candid. In addition to documenting everyday life—funerals and weddings, street scenes with mothers and children, Harlem architecture and social spots—Hansen captured images of notable political leaders (Marcus Garvey and Martin Luther King Jr.), scholars and authors (Lawrence D. Riddick and Langston Hughes), and entertainers (Eartha Kitt and Josephine Baker), as well as others.
Following a donation from Hansen in 1986, the Schomburg Center now holds a collection of 500,000 portraits of African American families, clergy, political leaders, entertainers, writers, and community members taken by the photographer. The Austin Hansen Collection also includes correspondence, original photographs, news clippings, programs for special events held at many historic Harlem churches, and other social events in Harlem and elsewhere.
The exhibition places the work of Austin Hansen in conversation with seven luminary contemporary photographers: Dario Calmese, Cheriss May, Flo Ngala, Ricky Day, Gerald Peart, Mark Clennon, and Lola Flash. Their practices explore identity, Black experiences, visual culture, and portraiture.
The exhibition will run until Winter 2023 in the Latimer Gallery at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. For more info, visit www.schomburgcenter.org.