NEW ORLEANS (press release) – SEEING BLACK announces the fall opening of First Frame, the opening prelude of SEEING BLACK—Photography in New Orleans 1840 & Beyond, at the New Orleans African American Museum and Xavier University Art Gallery.
SEEING BLACK—Photography in New Orleans 1840 & Beyond is a multimedia, research-based project chronicling and celebrating the history, influence, performative aesthetic, and futurity of Black photography in New Orleans. From photography’s pre-Civil War beginnings to its 21st-century practices, SEEING BLACK engages the intellectual inquiry, cultural histories, political positioning, and innovative versatility of historical and contemporary Black photography.
Organized around a series of multi-site exhibitions spanning a publication, a digital platform, an index, and public programming, SEEING BLACK challenges traditional exhibition didactics, conventional object presentations, and historical assumptions of blackness and representation. The project robustly engages a broad body of work from more than eighty historical and contemporary photographers and the themes and vernacular embodied in their images.
“Our oppression has been racialized and genderized to the extent that we do not recognize what’s been done to us,” states writer and activist Kalamu ya Salaam, lead organizer of SEEING BLACK. “It’s not a matter of centering or bringing women into the focus of the lens, as they have already been shaping the frame and leading the work. It’s about changing our understanding of their contributions and mindset about gender.”
As a body of work curated through a collaborative, research-led, and feminist-based process, SEEING BLACK will present over three hundred photographs and artifacts covering a spectrum of narrative styles, compositions, techniques, and approaches, showcasing contemporary art forms and expanding the historical record.
“Much of what we have access to about Black photographers in New Orleans since the 1840s has been erased in the archival record. The fragmented scants of photographic artists like John Roberts, Louis Foucher, Oryana Valentine, Jrende Meyers, and dozens of others I have documented denotes a significant community of Black photographers,” states photographer and researcher Girard Mouton, III. “The recorded work of photographers like Arthur Paul Bedou, Florestine Perrault Collins, George Floyd, Villard Paddio, and Arthur Perrault allows us to experience black life through their techniques and styles.”
First Frame, SEEING BLACK’s preludial exhibition, is an immersive installation centering the photography of Florestine Perrault Collin, the first documented Black woman photographer in New Orleans; other early Black photographers’ documentation of Black life, self-expression, political struggles, and social achievement through the camera; and contemporary work curated by Shana M. griffin with Kalamu ya Salaam, Eric Waters, and Girard Mouton, III.
“Collins reimagined the confines of her imposed domesticity and gender politics of the early twentieth century to one of possibilities and creative resistance,” states Shana M. griffin, feminist researcher and interdisciplinary artist. “Inspired by the location of Collins’ first studio and her aesthetic practice of challenging racial and gender stereotypes and controlling images of the Black body through the camera, the archival research of Arthé A. Perrault in Picturing Black New Orleans: A Creole Photographers View of the Early Twentieth Century, and the pioneering research of artist, writer, and scholar, Deborah Willis, First Frame reimagines the bold and inventive work of early Black photographers, celebrates Black visual histories, and explores the creative risk-taking evident in their work.”
First Frame will also feature a reimagined Florestine Perrault Collins Parlor Room and an early twentieth-century Black portrait studio at the New Orleans African American Museum from Oct. 6 to June 4, 2023, and showcase an expanded installation and exhibition of historical and contemporary photographers at Xavier University from Nov. 3 to April 23, 2023.
“Historical photographers challenge negative stereotypes and violent forms of erasure by changing the visual narrative of how Black people were represented in popular culture. Black photographers like Collins documented proof of our existence as we were, a dignified people, recording important achievements in everyday life,” notes photographer Eric Waters.
‘The New Orleans African American Museum is excited to partner with SEEING BLACK to present this monumental work and situate the launch of the prelude in the historic Tremé community, the site of Collins’ first two studios,” states Gia M. Hamilton, Executive Director and Chief Curator of the New Orleans African American Museum.
“Xavier University’s Art Gallery is honored to collaborate with SEEING BLACK in presenting First Frame and exhibiting the groundbreaking work of Florestine Perrault Collins and some of her contemporaries, alongside those of current photographers,” remarks Anne Smith, Art Gallery Xavier University Art Gallery Curator and New Orleans African American Museum board member.
First Frame will be accompanied by opening receptions and public programming including panel discussions, workshops, and more.