Oxford AASC: Photo Essay

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PHOTO ESSAY

African American Women and Photography

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FREESTYLE CATALOGUE COVER

Cover of catalogue to the "Freestyle" exhibition, which opened at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2001 and introduced the idea of post-blackness. Cover image is a still from Dave McKenzie's video "Edward and Me" (2000).

Within the last decade, terms such as "post-black," "post-racial," and "post-identity" have been circulating in sociopolitical and cultural spheres. While they each, to a degree, signify separate concepts, one can read them as synonyms. To be in a post-racial or post-identity moment is to have moved beyond blackness, as an ethno-racial distinction and as a political position. Although these terms gained traction during the 2008 U.S. Presidential election cycle, "post-black" entered the cultural lexicon in 2001 when Studio Museum in Harlem Director and Chief Curator Thelma Golden debuted "Freestyle." Composed of 28 emerging black artists working in a range of media, the exhibition proposed that the problem of the 21st century might no longer be the color line, but rather older generations of black cultural producers' seeming inability or unwillingness to move into a post-Civil Rights moment. There were those who latched on to the event, more specifically the term, as proof that the country had achieved colorblindness, just as many latched onto the election of President Barack Obama as a declaration of the end of racism; however, upon closer inspection of the artists included in the exhibition, one begins to understand that Golden was not declaring the end of race or racism, but the end of black representational space. Twenty-first century African American artists no longer felt obligated to represent the entirety of the black race and the totality of African American history in or with their artwork. While race and representation remain core aspects of this new work, today's artists are taking a more personal approach to exploring how identity, race, and representation operate in their lives. Twenty-first century photographers are working a mode that combines the documentary with the conceptual, blurring the narrative lines between fact and fiction to emphasize the fact that a photograph simultaneously is neither and both. Photography captures an actual event, but the final image bears the heavy hand of the artist behind the camera, from deciding what will appear in the frame and in focus to releasing the shutter and printing the final photograph.

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