NOMA called to the camera: Black American studio photographers

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NEW ORLEANS (press release) – From the earliest days of photography in the United States, black studio photographers have operated at the cutting edge of photographic media development to produce beautiful portraits for their clients, while shooting a variety of other photographic works in keeping with important movements like pictorialism, modernism and abstraction. Called on camera illustrates the artistic virtuosity, social significance, and political impact of African American photographers working in commercial portrait studios during the first century of photography. The exhibition is among the first to focus exclusively on this national cohort of artists and entrepreneurs, while situating this group within a larger and more inclusive history of image-making. Called to the Camera reframes the history of American photography by placing photographers and black subjects at the center of that history, advocating for a reconsideration of how historians and institutions assess and present photography.

This exhibition brings together more than 150 vintage photographs, many of which are unique objects, from the 19th century to the present day. Celebrating famous portrait painters such as James Presley Ball, James Van Der Zee and Addison Scurlock, this exhibition also draws attention to more than two dozen other photographers, including Arthur P. Bedou and Florestine Perrault Collins, Arthur L. Macbeth, Emmanuel F. Joseph, and more. The works of these and other artists illustrate how critically professional black photographers played a role in their communities’ efforts to represent themselves in the early 20th century. The works of modern and contemporary photographers clearly establish the connection between the historical legacy of black photography studios and what we now consider fine art photography.


Called to the Camera: Black American Studio Photographers is organized by the New Orleans Museum of Art and is sponsored by Catherine and David Edwards; Kitty and Stephen Sherrill; Tina Freeman and Philip Woollam; Milly and George Denègre; Andrea and Rodney Herenton; and Cherye and Jim Pierce. Additional support is provided by Philip DeNormandie; Aimee and Michael Siegel; Kenya and Quentin Messer; the Del and Ginger Hall Photography Fund; Many eat; Mel Buchanan and Lance Dickman; Rayne Martin; and Chantell M. Nabonne. This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. Research for this project was funded by the Mellon Foundation and the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library at Emory University.

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