Phasers and Fros


Though a documentary may be enjoyable to a general audience, a particular subject may be more than just entertaining to a select people.

THROUGH A LENS DARKLY is a film that follows the growth of black photographers from the 1800s to the most famous of recent times.  Writer / Director Thomas Allen Harris shapes a story that uncovers the rich visual culture that has been mostly hidden to viewers and even true lovers of the art form.  To the black audience this collection and narration is a revealing testament that black people of almost every era have been active artist of photography since the ability to capture an image was invented.

The story starts out with Harris talking about his own introduction to photography and how his father and grandfather were at opposing ends of embracing the camera.  Harris’ father gave him and his brother cameras and their first taste of looking through a lens.  But it was his grandfather that inspired Harris to take up the camera as a way of capturing ones own spirit.

There were interviews with several renowned photographers of the modern age that talked about their own work, but also about moments in history where visionaries were either praised in the industry or undiscovered by all but a few.  Among the artists who spoke were Deborah Willis, producer of the film and author of the book “Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers 1840 to the Present” which the theme of the film was shaped around.

Most striking was how the story brings to the surface so many images of black people in the mid 1800 to 1900s that were stylish, beautiful, educated, well to do, animated, hard working, regal and present in their reality.  There were photos taken in black studios and candidly among the black community.  But countering these beautiful images were the documentation of the plethora of images that mainstream American media used to dismantle, defame and degrade black people since the inception.  For me, the paradox of the use of photography was condensed into a moment where Harris called it a War Of Images.

But the essence of the film did not dwell on the negative, but gave the uniformed audience a fresh new realization of how black people have infused themselves into photography for the last 150 years; as they have in all other art forms.  It leaves you with the sense of how important it is for a people to control and shape their own image in society.  And I personally admire this film because of my interest in photography for most of my life.  I give THROUGH A LENS DARKLY 4 out of 5 Cosmic Afros.  At the time of this post you can find it on Netflix.

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