NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) —The New Orleans Museum of Art celebrates the eye of a photographer in their new exhibition titled; Called to the Camera: Black American Studio Photographers.
Brian Piper is NOMA’s Photography Curator and says, “for the first century of a hundred and twenty years of photography, these studio photographers were professionals working primarily in portraiture. They also branched out in a number of different ways outside the studio. There were black American studio photographers working in every region throughout the country.”
The exhibition showcases over 250 photographs from before the early 20th century to the present day. Each photo has it’s own uniqueness but they all represent a dynamic visual story. The exhibition, puts a poignant spotlight on often over looked or largely unknown, photographers of color. The exhibition also illuminates glimpses into the black communities of different decades as well.
One of the most visually striking components of the exhibition is a wall that is a recreation of Addison Scurlock’s Washington D.C. studio of 1911. the Scurlock wall has some of his work, along with work from his contemporaries, across the country. Piper speaks about one of the photographs on the wall, saying, “the one in the middle is a woman, whose name we don’t yet know. It’s by Alain Cole, in Cleveland. It has that art deco look. It’s a confident portrait, where she is looking back over her shoulder.”
One of the most celebrated camera men in New Orleans’ history is Arthur Paul Bedou. Bedou has a prominent position in the exhibit and Piper says, “Bedou is perhaps the best-known black photographer in New Orleans in the 20th century. He was absolutely prolific as a portraitist. He took photographs for important institutions in New Orleans, such as the Archdiocese of New Orleans and Xavier University of Louisiana. He was favorite photographer of Booker T. Washington.”
“One of my favorite Bedou photographs is a photo of the sisters of the holy family. It’s remarkably precise! When you are looking at it, you can see a string on the ground that is in perfect focus. You can also read the chalkboard in the back of the classroom as well.
The exhibition experience is composed largely of black and white photographs, but it culminates in vibrant color, as visitors make their way up to the work of some of today’s black photographers, who lead their prospective fields and carry on the legacy.
“My favorite contemporary pieces in the show are works by Tiffany Smith. She is a photographer out of Brooklyn, New York but she does a lot of work here in New Orleans as well. She makes work about Caribbean diasporic identities. seen in her photos are issues of home, travel, displacement and colonialism. She has made two really great self portraits, that are on view here.”
Called to the Camera: Black American Studio Photographers, will be on display until January, 8th 2023.