Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People

Directed by Thomas Allen Harris

The film explores the role of photography, since its rudimentary beginnings in the 1840s, in shaping the identity, aspirations, and social emergence of African Americans from slavery to the present. The dramatic arch is developed as a visual narrative that flows through the past 160 years to reveal black photography as an instrument for social change, an African American point-of-view on American history, and a particularized aesthetic vision.


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  • ★★★★ review by Joe on Letterboxd

    That it's packed almost to bursting with material began to feel less like a problem with the film's construction and more of a byproduct of the very disparity the movie is about - there's an entire parallel universe out there of visual representation that gets ignored or, worse, actively subverted by the mainstream, and it's been going on for hundreds of years, since the birth of photography itself. A truly thorough examination of all that work wouldn't be a movie, it would be a lifetime.

  • ★★★★ review by spice world: best film ever made? on Letterboxd

    yknow watching this reminded me of the weird day i had in this photo history class last year where we looked at work by black photographers, specifically the work of james van der zee, carrie mae weems, and lorna simpson, and my professor didnt know that much about their art (i knew more information about them than she, an art historian, did) even though she could’ve just looked up information about them and other photographers or at least idk watched a 95 minute documentary but im not gonna tell her how to do her job :/

  • ★★★½ review by Bethany on Letterboxd

    This is a movie with so many striking images that I would very much like to watch it again at some point. Tragically it expired off of Netflix but the number of images and discussion of what they have meant to the black community was really wonderful. I totally recommend it.

  • ★★★★★ review by Michael on Letterboxd

  • ★★★★ review by John Greco on Letterboxd

    Interesting documentary on how photography helped African- Americans give themselves and the world a positive image, as well as an impressive look at the work of many Black photographers throughout history.

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