WASHINGTON, DC.- The National Gallery of Art
has acquired eight works by four modern and contemporary African American photographers: Adger Cowans (b. 1936), Chester Higgins Jr. (b. 1946), Herman Howard (19421980), and Herb Robinson (b. unknown). Encouraged by Gordon Parks (19122006) and Roy DeCarava (19192009), they represent an important achievement in the history of photographythey empowered themselves to represent their own Black communities during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
Cowans, Howard, and Robinson were all early members of the Kamoinge Workshop, a group of Black photographers formed in 1963 to study together and share their work and ideas. Their images join those of fellow Kamoinge members Anthony Barboza (b. 1944), DeCarava, Louis Draper (19352002), James "Jimmie" Mannas (b. 1940), Beuford Smith (b. 1941), Ming Smith (b. 1947), and Shawn W. Walker (b. 1940) in the National Gallerys collection.
Chester Higgins studied at Tuskegee University and began photographing friends, family, and civil rights protests, focusing on the dignity of his community. He traveled widely and became known for his poignant depictions of Black peopleespecially in Harlemand their spiritual connections to the African diaspora. He was a staff photographer for the New York Times from 1975 to 2014.
Manuel Álvarez Bravo (19022002) is one of the most important figures in 20th-century Latin American photography. Rejecting stereotypes, he was deeply influenced by the Mexican muralists and interested in depicting the Indigenous heritage of the Mexican people. Donated by the Nancy Rutter Clark Collection to the National Gallery, Retrato de lo Enterno (Portrait of the Eternal) (1935) is the first vintage print by the artist to enter the collection, joining 30 other, later prints.
Retrato de lo Enterno (Portrait of the Eternal) is a vintage print of one of this photographers most celebrated works. It depicts Isabel Villaseñora noted post-revolutionary Mexican sculptor, painter, printmaker, poet, and songwriterlooking into a mirror as she pulls her hair back from her partially lit face. Using sunlight, as the poet Langston Hughes wrote of Bravos work, that is "a quiet veil making the shadows like velvet," Bravo transformed an everyday event into a poetic reflection on beauty, vanity, and the transitory nature of life.