Thomas Allen Harris worked on his latest film project, "Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People," for years, and it was released in Washington on Dec. 12.
The timing, while entirely coincidental, comes during a period of renewed discussion of race as grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y., continue to reverberate and demonstrations sweep through the halls of power, including at Capitol Hill. www.youtube.com/watch?v=odgHrU1T9a8
Using Deborah Willis' groundbreaking book "Reflections in Black" as his initial source material, Harris examines the history of black photographers and images of blacks in both commercial and family pictures. Adding to this examination of contrasts, he weaves his own story, told through his narration of family albums, to establish a touchstone for the viewer.
"I also come from a family of photographers," he said. "What was happening to the national family album was also happening in my own family album. On one side of my family, we had lots of images and lots of stories. On the other side, my father's side, had very few images, very few stories."
He felt that mirrored the broader issue he was exploring. Pop culture relied on photographic and popular images of blacks that didn't comport with the images individuals and black photographers took of families, which depicted African-Americans on a much more complex, human level.
"Grappling with these two legacies, one of absence, versus a legacy of affirmation on the level of the family, on the level of the national, who-we-are-as-a-country," is the way Harris described it. It's that contrast, those two legacies that help form a fitting context as the country looks through various lenses to view itself at a challenging time.
"Through a Lens Darkly" is playing at the West End Cinema at 2301 M St. NW. It will soon play on PBS' Independent Lens series as well.
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