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Framing the Black experience


In 1963 a group of Black photographers based in New York formed the Kamoinge Workshop. Committed to photography’s power as an art form, Kamoinge members depicted Black life as they saw and experienced it. They hoped to offer an alternative to the mainstream media of the time, which often overlooked Black culture or portrayed it negatively.

‘Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop’ is the first major retrospective presenting photographs from the collective during the 1960s and 1970s. Highlighting each photographer’s individual artistry as well as the Workshop’s shared concerns, this exhibition celebrates the group’s self-organizing, commitment to community, and centering of Black experiences. It will be on view from July 19 to Oct. 9 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1200 Getty Center Dr.

“The work in this exhibition highlights Black Americans behind and in front of the camera. The Museum regularly features individual artists in monographic exhibitions, but it is important also to document and celebrate the importance of collaborative groups such as the Kamoinge Workshop,” says Timothy Potts, the museum’s Maria Hummer-Tuttle and Robert Tuttle director.

Within their first year, the members of the Kamoinge Workshop (pronounced “kuh-moyn-gay” by the group) made a commitment to portray the communities around them. They chose the name — which means “a group of people acting together” in the Kikuyu language of Kenya — to reflect the collective model they wished to follow as well as their interest in Black communities not just at home but also outside the United States.

The artists included in the exhibition are Anthony Barboza, Adger Cowans, Daniel Dawson, Louis Draper, Al Fennar, Ray Francis, Herman Howard, Jimmie Mannas, Herb Randall, Herb Robinson, Beuford Smith, Ming Smith, Shawn Walker, and Calvin Wilson. Also included are several photographs by Roy DeCarava, the first director of the Workshop.

Images in the exhibition capture the experience of urban life in the mid-century, the civil rights movement, intimate portraiture, experimental abstraction and jazz musicians.

“The Kamoinge vision remains resonant today,” notes Mazie Harris, curator of the installation in the Getty Museum’s Center for Photographs. “The photographs in this exhibition offer a glimpse into the artistry and ambition of the workshop members, reminding us of the power of both individual creativity and collective action.”

The Getty Center is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5:30.p.m. Beginning July 18, the Getty Center will be open until 8 p.m. on Saturdays, year-round. It is closed Mondays, Thanksgiving, Dec. 25 and Jan.1.

Admission to the Getty Center is free, but a reservation is required. Make reservations online or at (310) 440-7300. Parking is $20, $15 after 3 p.m. and $10 after 6 p.m.