Photographs by Elia Alba
A glamorous woman, dressed in jeans, a shirt and a vest, looks into the camera. Her full-on Afro and styling are retro, a homage, perhaps, to 1970s Blaxploitation stars like Pam Grier and Tamara Dobson. But one telling detail, the high-school yearbook she is holding, reminds us that the image is more than a fashion photograph. The school’s location, Braddock, Pa., is the struggling hometown of the subject, LaToya Ruby Frazier.
Elia Alba photographed Ms. Frazier, an artist, on an ornate staircase at the Braddock Carnegie Library. Ms. Alba thinks the image alludes not to movie stars but to a political figure: Kathleen Cleaver of the Black Panther Party. In this context, the portrait honors Ms. Frazier as the “patron saint of Braddock,” as Ms. Alba calls her — an activist photographer who uses art for social change. In “The Notion of Family,” her 2014 book, for example, Ms. Frazier photographed her own family to document the decline of a once-flourishing steel town and the lives of its residents, largely African-American, beset by poverty, gentrification and discrimination.”The Braddonian (LaToya Ruby Frazier), 2012.”CreditElia Alba
“The Explorer (Dawit L. Petros), 2015.”CreditElia Alba
“The American, after Sidibé (Louis Cameron), 2015.”CreditElia Alba
The photograph is in her new book, “Elia Alba: The Supper Club” (The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation/Hirmer), edited by Sara Reisman with George Bolster and Anjuli Nanda, which documents Ms. Alba’s project, reimagining artists of color as A-list celebrities.
Ms. Alba is influenced by art history, Afro-futurist aesthetics and contemporary media, and her fantasy portraits echo spreads in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaarand other glamour magazines. “Fashion photography is fascinating to me due to its construction of image; the likeness is real time but it’s completely hyper-real with many elements of fantasy,” she said in a recent interview. But Ms. Alba also acknowledged that mainstream publications have historically ignored or marginalized people of color and, still do.
Riffing on Vanity Fair’s “Hollywood Issue,” Ms. Alba assigns artists literary names that describe their philosophy, sensibility or reputation — “The Alchemist,” for example, or “The Oracle”— and photographs them in environments reflective of their art. She designs costumes and either constructs sets or photographs her subjects on location, and she adopts the visual devices of posing and styling common to the publications that inspired her. But her interests transcend fashion.
“These portraits go beyond merely a record of the subject,” she wrote in an artist’s statement, and convey “a deeper meaning or vision of the sitter, through their art.” Arnaldo Morales (“The Machinist”), for example, is posed against the machines and gadgets that inspire his futuristic sculptures. Maren Hassinger (“The Spiritualist”) appears as a dancing Orisha in the forest, echoing her themes of spirituality and nature. And a series of portraits represents artists who challenge conventional notions of masculinity, including Angel Otero (“The Romantic”), whose paintings recast the male body as sensual and vulnerable, and Kalup Linzy (“The Star”), sultry in drag as Marlene Dietrich.”The Dreamweaver (Chitra Ganesh), 2013.”CreditElia Alba
“The Professor (Hank Willis Thomas), 2014.”CreditElia Alba
“The Thespian (Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz), 2014.”CreditElia Alba
Ms. Alba’s project also relates to the history of artists who use other artists as their subjects. At the height of the New York School in the 1950s and 1960s, for example, the photographer Hans Namuth made many such portraits. Much like Ms. Alba, his pictures were stylish and glamorous, displaying a sensibility rooted in his training with Alexey Brodovitch, the renowned art director of Harper’s Bazaar. Typically depicting his subjects in their studios, Mr. Namuth described his photographic process as akin to “the feeling of being in a theater, of watching and directing.” But his portraits, unlike those of “The Supper Club,” were neither theatrical nor art directed.
While “The Supper Club” both perpetuates and challenges this legacy, it rejects one sensibility inherent to these projects: their view of the art world as largely white. It highlights the accomplishments of contemporary artists of color through work that also reflects the consequential issues engaged by their art. It does so not only through portraits but also a through series of dinners that Ms. Alba hosted — the “supper clubs” of the project’s title — in which artists discussed the social, cultural and aesthetic issues reflected in their work and worldview.
Challenging the cliché of the artist as hermetic and socially insular, these dialogues explored the motivations and intentions of the participants as well as the impact of real-life events and issues on their lives and art. In the end, Ms. Alba’s project — which recasts the artist’s portrait as a complex reflection of artists and their work — underscores the interplay among persona, politics and aesthetics in much contemporary art.
If the typical celebrity portrait aggrandizes its subject, the photographs in “The Supper Club” give artists of color a place of honor in a mainstream art world that continues to ignore, underestimate or play down their accomplishments. They honor these artists on multiple levels: as icons of originality and brilliance, as interpreters of a changing culture and society, and as role models for people long erased from the history of art. In the end, these vibrant portraits represent their subjects not simply as culturally expressive, but also as embodying the potential of a refreshed and relevant cultural world unencumbered by racism.”The Poet (LaTasta N. Nevada Diggs), 2015.”CreditElia Alba
“The Star (Kalup Linzy), 2015.”CreditElia Alba
“The Romantic (Angel Otero), 2015.”CreditElia Alba
Race Stories is a continuing exploration of the relationship between race and photographic depictions of race by Maurice Berger. He is a research professor and chief curator at the Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. This column is an edited excerpt from the author’s essay in “Elia Alba: The Supper Club.”
Report: Dramatic Drop in Sales Canon Cameras
They Were Orphaned by the Rwandan Genocide. 25 Years Later, They’re Interviewing the Perpetrators
BY SUYIN HAYNES APRIL 6, 2019
When Gadi Habumugisha was 2 years old, he was forced to flee his home in Rwanda with his older sister. It was April 1994, and violence was escalating after the death of the president, as ethnic tensions erupted. Crossing the border to seek safety in refugee camps in the neighboring Congo, the pair were eventually orphaned by the killings.
April 7 marks 25 years since the Rwandan genocide. Over the course of 100 days, an estimated 800,000 people were killed — most of them members of the minority Tutsi ethnic group killed by the majority Hutu population.
Gadi and his sister’s new lives in Rwanda began at the end of 1994 after the genocide ended, when they returned with the Red Cross to their homeland and came to the Imbabazi Orphanage in the country’s north. Run by Rosamond Carr, an American humanitarian who had lived in Rwanda since 1949, the orphanage was a sanctuary for children who had lost their families as a result of that traumatic summer.
For Gadi, and two other boys, Mussa Uwitonze and Bizimana Jean, the orphanage also became the place where, years later, they first picked up cameras at a photography workshop run by Through the Eyes of Children, an organization founded in 2000 by photographer American David Jiranek. All three boys seized the chance to tell their own stories by taking pictures. It marked the beginning of a lifelong passion for photography.
Now all in their late twenties, the three men are spreading that passion to other vulnerable children, taking on the leadership of Through the Eyes of Children by teaching photography workshops in Rwanda and around the world. Working initially with 19 “camera kids,” the photography workshops for vulnerable children in Rwanda started in 2000, teaching them the basics of lighting, composition and stop-motion among other photography techniques. The photographs made by workshop participants have been exhibited at the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda’s capital Kigali, the United Nations headquarters in New York and at Holocaust museums around the world. “When you give a child a chance to tell their story from their perspective, it tells them they matter, and that their story matters,” says Joanne McKinney, project director at Through the Eyes of Children.Play VideoYOU MIGHT LIKEANASTASE’S STORYZAWADI’S STORY
Documenting scenes of everyday life in the country, the extraordinarily large collection of photographs track the healing and rebuilding of Rwanda in the years after the genocide. “For us orphans, we were able to express ourselves and the world could see our photos, our country and the children of it,” says Mussa Uwitonze, now 28 years old and the father of two girls. The photographs from the workshops did more than show life in Rwanda to international audiences. Proceeds from sales of the images to buyers around the world fed back into Imbabazi, paying for the children’s clothing, food and education. Many of the original Camera Kids have gone on to pursue careers in photography for media, events and non-profit organizations in Rwanda.
Almost 20 years on from their first workshop, and 25 years on from the genocide, Gadi, Mussa and Bizimana are embarking on their own journey, telling their story through different means. They are both the subjects and storytellers of a forthcoming documentary, entitled Camera Kids, in partnership with American filmmaker Beth Murphy, Director of Films for the Groundtruth Project, an international non-profit media organization supporting storytelling and freedom of expression in the United States and developing countries around the world.
The three men have all worked as professional photographers and now lead the Through the Eyes of Children photography workshops. But a few years ago, they realized they were still troubled by lingering questions about their past. “We all had so many questions since our time at the orphanage,” says Mussa. “Who are these people who participated in the genocide? What were they thinking when they were killing people? We decided that it was our time, as photographers and storytellers, to find out the answers from the real people who participated in the genocide.”Play VideoYOU MIGHT LIKEZAWADI’S STORYANGELIQUE’S STORY
These are the questions that Gadi, Mussa and Bizimana seek to answer in the documentary, which follows their reunions with the other original camera kids from Imbabazi Orphanage, which closed in 2014, as well as a three month-long journey through villages across northern Rwanda, interviewing and photographing those responsible for the violence and their families. So far, they have interviewed participants in the genocide and their families, and have the goal of interviewing 100 perpetrators in total. “We want to hear what their stories are and why they were involved,” Gadi says, “but I don’t expect to get a full or satisfactory answer. There is no valid reason that would lead one to kill another. However, talking to these perpetrators and survivors, I can see that eventually there has been some kind of reconciliation.”
Bizimana Abdullah stands at the site where he burned dozens of Tutsis to ashes in 1994 – many of whom were his friends. He is haunted by the fact that not even one bone remained. Jean Bizimana
Murphy, the filmmaker, has been filming Gadi, Mussa and Bizimana for the past three years, with plans to release a feature-length documentary in late 2020. “Making peace with your enemy is one of the most difficult things a person can do, and the story in Rwanda can really be something to emulate,” she tells TIME.
Murphy also says she was struck by some of the parallels in Rwanda with the rise of hate speech back home in the United States. “Some of the language the perpetrators use to explain why they did what they did sounds a lot like some of the language that we’re hearing today, especially from white nationalists in the United States.” Leading up to the 1994 genocide, government-sanctioned propaganda and radio broadcast messages were used to dehumanize the Tutsis and stoke hatred against them. Murphy sees parallels today around the world with the use of the word “invasion,” a phrase used by President Donald Trump to describe the movement of Central American migrants towards the U.S. border. The term “invaders” was also used in the New Zealand shooter’smanifesto before he killed 50 people at a mosque in Christchurch last month. “It’s chilling. And it is leading to violence and death,” Murphy says. “I want this film to be an antidote to hateful ideology and xenophobia.”Play VideoYOU MIGHT LIKEANASTASE’S STORYANGELIQUE’S STORY
Beyond the perpetrator project, Gadi, Mussa and Bizimana are concentrating their efforts on expanding the mission of Through the Eyes of Children worldwide. In the U.S., they have led photography workshops with immigrant Haitian teenagers in New Jersey and foster children in Boston. In May, they plan to visit Haiti for workshops with orphanages, and will be traveling to Lebanon later in the year to share their photography craft with Syrian refugees. “It’s a great feeling to be able to transfer knowledge to kids in difficult conditions like we used to be in,” Gadi tells TIME. “It’s like giving them a medicine to heal them. It’s treating them because we know from experience that because of photography, they will be better people.” The men want to foster a global community of camera kids, united by telling their own stories through photography and fostering empathy with others. “A lot of kids around the world need photography to be able to express themselves, to know lives outside their boxes,” says Mussa.
And in Rwanda, where it all started, photography remains integral to the three men’s lives. Gadi is pursuing a part-time career as a photographer and has worked with several non-profit organizations. Mussa recently left his job as a tour operator to become a full-time photographer, and Bizimana is in his second year as a staff photographer with Reuters Africa. Their determination to share their knowledge of photography with future generations has led to workshops with street children, disabled children, and now —after the ‘Camera Kids’ film project — workshops with the children of both survivors and perpetrators of the genocide. “When we were kids, [Rosamond Carr] used to tell us that we have to share with others what we have,” Bizimana says, reflecting on the legacy of his late foster mother. “This is the heritage she gave us. Giving other kids photography is doing what we promised her.”
Correction, April 6: The original version of this story misstated the start date of the Rwandan genocide. It was April 7, not April 6 as originally stated.
Write to Suyin Haynes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
AIPAD, the world’s longest-running photographic exhibition moved to new Hudson riverfront digs for 2018, hosting 15,000 shutterbugs at Pier 94 – up 25 percent from 12,000 in 2016 at the Park Avenue Armory. This inaugural show for president Kraige Block (day job: Executive Director, Throckmorton Fine Art) saw expansion beyond its attendance, with four new sections (Salon; Gallery; Positions; Discovery) and a cleaner, less convention hall-ish look, via more spacious aisle design, and a cool books section. New projects included portrait-making with the world’s first digital camera; the AIPAD Screening Room, and an outdoor video projection.
This year also saw the first bestowment of The AIPAD Award, “to recognize visionaries who have spent their lives at the forefront of the field of photography.” During the annual pre-event vernissage, Sandra Phillips, curator of photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, andAnne Wilkes Tucker, founding curator of photography at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, were honored and feted. The Arnold Newman Prize for New Directions in Photographic Portraiture, presented by Maine Media Workshops + College, was awarded to Daniella Zalcman (b. 1986), a documentary photographer based in London and New York. Sophie Barbasch, Daniel Coburn, and Jessica Eve Rattner were finalists.
Over the next four days, visitors comprised of curators, collectors, artists and general enthusiasts were challenged with seeing and hearing as much as possible from 115 galleries from around the world, over a dozen AIPAD talks and a countless number of works, before the circus left town.
On the sales floor, a random query of a few exhibitors found a considerable number of mid-to-upper five-figure sales. Amidst an exuberant assessment of the show’s new site, which he claims, “Truly elevated the fair experience,” Gallerist Bryce Wolkowitz reported selling several Stephen Wilkes pieces ranging $15,000-$35,000, a Jim Campbell for $85,000 and a Robert Currie for $22,500.
Tallying up more than 40 sales and an uptick in first-time buyers, dealer Steven Kasher “Best sales ever for me for any fair.” Yancey Richardson capitalized on institutional sales: “ All the curators attended. We sold across the board: Mickalene Thomas, Zanele Muholi, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, and Olivo Barbieri. It’s been a very good fair for us.”
Vintage work was also in-demand; dealer Hans P. Kraus Jr. of New York, reported an excellent fair with sales of an 1857 Gustave Le Gray and an 1846 Rev. Calvert Richard Jones, both at $60,000. Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago, sold three Sid Grossman Coney Island photographs from 1947-48, and a László Moholy-Nagy photogram. Vasari, Buenos Aires, sold an Annemarie Heinrich print for $15,000, a Grete Stern for $25,000, and an Alicia D’Amico for $7,000.
From sales to loans by way of another first, the 2018 confab struck new curatorial ground, exhibiting three specially-loaned collections courtesy of Martin Margulies, Artur Walther, and Madeleine Plonsker. “Structures of Identity” examined the ways photographers from varied cultures and historical periods have used portraiture to affirm or challenge stereotypes of race, gender, class. “Fifteen Countries” was exactly that, with work by 22 artists from 15 countries. “The Light in Cuban Eyes” chronicles contemporary Cuban photography from when the Soviets left the island in 1992, to the present.
Of course, more than a few celebrities were in attendance: Funnyman Chris Rock, Mad Man Jon Slattery, and legendary documentary lenser Jill Freeman went mostly unnoticed amidst fellow aficionados busied with taking it all in.
As the sun set on the Hudson, capping the final day, the mood among visitors slowly making their way to the exits (present company included) was that 2018 would be remembered as a watershed year for this essential annual experience.
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