Cover image for Reflections in Black : a history of Black photographers, 1840 to the present
Reflections in Black : a history of Black photographers, 1840 to the present
Willis, Deborah, 1948-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton, [2000]

Physical Description:
xviii, 348 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 32 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
TR23 .W55 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area-Oversize
TR23 .W55 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Black History Non-Circ

On Order



Reflections in Black, the first comprehensive history of black photographers, is Deborah Willis's long-awaited, groundbreaking assemblage of photographs of African American life from 1840 to the present. Willis, a curator of photography at the Smithsonian Institution, has selected nearly 600 stunning images that give us rich, hugely moving glimpses of black life, from slavery to the Great Migrations, from rare antebellum portraits to 1990s middle-class families. Featuring the work of undisputed masters such as James Presley Ball, C. M. Battey, James VanDerZee, Morgan and Marvin Smith, Gordon Parks, Moneta Sleet, Jr., and Carrie Mae Weems, among hundreds of others, Reflections in Black is, most powerfully, a refutation of the gross caricature of the many mainstream photographers who have continually emphasized poverty over family, despair over hope. Recalling Roman Vishniac's Vanished World in terms of its documentary importance, and Brian Lanker's I Dream a World in terms of its exceptional beauty, Reflections in Black is not only an exceptional gift book for any occasion but also a work so significant that it has the power to reconfigure our conception of American history itself. It demands to be included in every American family's library as the record of an essential part of our heritage. Publication will coincide and tie in with a major exhibition at The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, which will then travel to Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Albany, New York; Corpus Christi, Texas; and other cities.

Author Notes

She has taught photography & the history of photography at New York University, City University of New York & the Brooklyn Museum. She lives in Washington, D. C..

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Willis' stunning history of black photography begins in 1840, when freeman of color Jules Lion introduced the daguerreotype process in New Orleans, and works toward the present, showcasing photographs by James Presley Ball, James VanDerZee, Gordon Parks, and many others. Willis sketches important figures and traces both developments in photographic techniques and the practice of photography by African Americans. The early history of that practice was greatly concerned with countering demeaning images of blacks created by whites. Because so much of the general history of black Americans has been omitted or distorted in the telling in other books, Willis conveys more than the history of black photographers. She chronicles black Americans generally--their mundane daily lives as reflected in family photographs as well as the momentous historical occasions that affected them. Here are horrific and heroic images of U.S. race relations, of lynchings on the one hand, and of the civil rights movement on the other; and people both famous and common. A beautiful and informative album. --Vanessa Bush

Library Journal Review

Willis (curator, Smithsonian!s Center for African American History and Culture) continues enlightening the public about visual representations of African American experiences, work that just won her a MacArthur genius grant. This catalog of a Smithsonian exhibit that will tour America starting this summer should be read in conjunction with her other books on the subject: Black Photographers, 1840$1940: An Illustrated Bio-Bibliography (New Pr., 1992), VanDerZee, Photographer, 1886$1983 (LJ 11/15/93), and Picturing Us: African American Identity in Photography (LJ 12/94). In this more comprehensive book, Willis alternates chronological sections of photographs with essays that discuss the individual photographers and the scope of their work. They range from men and women who operated photography studios and made dignified portraits of the people in their communities, to photojournalists documenting social change, to contemporary artists making creative statements with digital montage techniques. This book certainly should be selected for African American or photography collections, but it could alternatively be put in general American history or social history."Anne Marie Lane, Univ. of Wyoming, Laramie (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Willis (curator, Center for African-American History and Culture, DC) offers an important resource; this sampler of brief (a paragraph) sketches of 200 African American photographers at work since 1840 will provide researchers with a place to begin to enlarge the knowledge of a significant visual history, its makers, and its participants. Its shortcomings are those of every "first" historical exploration. It will inspire younger visual and cultural history scholars; it insists on the importance of more knowledge and interpretation; it establishes the preliminary for the books that will grow from these seeds. Staking a claim against the insulting, stereotypical, grotesque photographs of Blacks that for so long have dominated the output of the entertainment and media industries, we see here the lives--the ways and means and mores--of us all. The middle class dominates both the makers of, and the players within, the pictures in this book. The pictorial quality (in the broadest sense of the word) represents a wide spectrum from the brilliant artistry of Roy DeCarava (unfortunately limited to one reproduction and one paragraph) to the socially revealing family album. Documentary and portraiture are the dominant genres represented. Five chronological essays (with endnotes); picture portfolio (about 600 items). General readers; undergraduates through faculty. C. Chiarenza; University of Rochester

Table of Contents

Robin D. G. Kelley
Forewordp. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xii
Introductionp. xv
Part I The First Sixty Years 1840 - 1900p. 1
Part II The New Negro Image 1900 - 1930p. 33
Part III 1930s and 1940s Photographyp. 83
Part IV Social and Artistic Movements 1950 - 1979p. 109
Part V Photography in the 1980s and 1990sp. 169
Notesp. 333
Bibliographyp. 338
Indexp. 345