Aperture Summer 2016

Founded in 1952, Aperture is an essential guide to the world of contemporary photography that combines the finest writing with inspiring photographic portfolios. Each issue examines one theme explored in “Words,” focused on the best writing surrounding contemporary photography, and “Pictures,” featuring immersive portfolios and artist projects.

United States
Aperture Foundation
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in this issue

9 min
vision & justice

In 1926, my grandfather was expelled in the eleventh grade in New York City for asking where African Americans were in the history books. He refused to accept what the teacher told him, that African Americans had done nothing to merit inclusion. He was expelled for his so-called impertinence. His pride was so wounded that he never went back to high school. Instead, he went on to become a jazz musician and a painter, inserting images of African Americans in scenes where he thought they should—and knew they did—exist. The endeavor to affirm the dignity of human life cannot be waged without pictures, without representational justice. This, he knew. American citizenship has long been a project of vision and justice. When I was asked to guest edit this special issue devoted to…

5 min
collectors the jazz musicians

Wynton Marsalis As dreams of previous generations erode, there is nothing more uplifting than the clear vision of a veteran free of bitterness. That’s why I love the work of Frank Stewart. His vigilant eye is trained on counternarrative realities that run deeper than race, gender, class, or even oppression itself. Frank loves black folks, but he focuses on timeless HUMAN fundamentals that only increase in value and intensity with time. He is a jazzman with a camera. Improvisational, empathetic, and accurate, all kinds of folks trust him and let him in. In the New Orleans of my youth, if someone agreed with you they would say, “I hear you.” If it was deeper than that, they would say, “I FEEL you.” When I look at this photo, I’m there with ’em, can…

5 min

For Hank Willis Thomas—conceptual photographer and multimedia artist—American commerce is a perpetual source of slogans and spectacles. In his series Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America, 1968–2008, Thomas excised the logos from post-civil-rightsera advertisements for products marketed to African Americans, unveiling an array of stereotypes. Question Bridge: Black Males, an ongoing transmedia project cocreated by Thomas, Chris Johnson, and other artists, is a forum for black men to ask other black men questions about their lives. In Question Bridge: Black Males in America, published by Aperture in 2015, one participant asks, “What is common to all of us that makes us who we are?” Deborah Willis, Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers, 1840 to the Present, 2000 This was my mother’s fifteenth book looking at the experiences and revelations…

5 min

The many lives of a contested exhibition catalog. Harlem on My Mind Bridget R. Cooks On January 18, 1969, the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened the exhibition Harlem on My Mind: Cultural Capital of Black America, 1900–1968. Mired in controversy from the beginning of the curatorial process, it was organized by exhibition committee director Allon Schoener and consisted primarily of photographs arranged in thirteen galleries by decade and themes such as “ 1920–1929: An Urban Black Culture” and “1950–1959: Frustration and Ambivalence.” Schoener and museum director Thomas Hoving conceptualized the exhibition as a humanistic project that would represent the culturally rich and historically black community of Harlem. However, public frustration with the museum’s selection of objects and depiction of cross-cultural relationships led to boycotts of the exhibition before it even opened. And shortly…

7 min
frederick douglass’s camera obscura

“P oets, prophets, and reformers are all picture-makers—and this ability is the secret of their power and of their achievements. They see what ought to be by the reflection of what is, and endeavor to remove the contradiction.” —Frederick Douglass Since he was photographed more than any other American of his time, it shouldn’t surprise us that Frederick Douglass not only used photographic images of himself, like he used his oratory, in the battle to end slavery and to insure for the Negro full citizenship rights, but he also theorized about photography, about its nature and its uses. Douglass was, by all accounts, a master orator on his feet, summoning rhetorical tropes and figures seemingly at will to maximum effect. For someone so urgently concerned with effecting immediate political change, he was…

7 min
the black photographers annual

Despite the fact that photographs published in book form date back to William Henry Fox Talbot’s 1844 The Pencil of Nature, the first monograph by a black photographer and author, The Sweet Flypaper of Life, Roy DeCarava’s collaboration with writer Langston Hughes, wasn’t published until 1955. Although illustrated magazines had been commercially popular since the late nineteenth century, and both Camera Notes and Camera Work had catered to the serious photography connoisseur in the early twentieth century, the 1950s ushered in a new wave of journals for photographic artists and their audience. In 1952, the photographer, educator, and editor Minor White established Aperture along with photographers Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Barbara Morgan, and curators Beaumont and Nancy Newhall; the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, began publishing Image that…