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'Through a Lens Darkly:' rare historical photographs of American culture

Documentary of American cultural history through Photography


Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of A People", a documentary Directed by Thomas Allen Harris, is indeed stunning and provocative. In an era where much of early African American history and culture post emancipation has been buried since the end of the Civil Rights movement. This historical collection of contributions by Black American Photographers, such as the celebrated James Vanderzee, jogs the memory with new seldom seen and old seldom discussed, inspiring and sometimes tragic images of who we are as an American community today.

A part of historical American culture told in rarely seen photographs
A part of historical American culture told in rarely seen photographs
Curators and Creators of Historical Photographs
Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images

After the assinations of the sixties and early seventies, the movement towards elevating the African American culture has been seemingly focused on securing progress of present and future accomplishments. The flurry of assinations less than fifty years ago seem lifetimes away in much of the current social trend. It is refreshing to see the recent generations interacting in life as if the major struggles in America are a memory of long past.

The ugly weeds of racism that stunted the growth of progress seem to have been cut to the quick with only a few straggling hangers-on to old beliefs of segregation and race superior consciousness rattling about. But have the roots from which these weeds grew, also been pulled so the weeds do not grow back?

"Darkly" is an undeniable account of American history and how deeply those roots existed. Some of the photos and images you will see were considered by most Americans so inhumane that they were taken out of the school libraries and classrooms because of their horrid content. "Darkly" brings to the forefront a photographic foot print that garners great discussion for old and new generations alike to compare notes and continue to elevate our minds and social quality.

Like genocide in many of the world's continents, America has been involved in great wars domestically and for the most part we have learned and grown making us a leading example of what may be a model for the world village community. Gladly, We are still well on the way as leaders in this evolutionary path.

"Through a Lens Darkly" also shows early photos of family life of the distinguished everyday American of African decent that only exist in black American homes and communities. These are photographs depicting images that are contrary to the majority of examples experienced for many years, ending with images that we see today; the products of the past few hundred years. These photographs show on the whole, even though there remains a great deal of gardening to attend to, we are doing very well.

The photographers whose work is displayed in "Through a Lens Darkly" were and are trailblazers of a non-violent presentation of facts, especially before photoshop was available. Even though the narration beautifully and gently helps us to understand the photographs shown, one could actually sit in silence and let the images resonate in the mind and speak for themselves.

So important was this film to the message of Sundance, it was presented in two installations as a film in theaters and as an interactive in the New Frontiers exhibition. At the New Frontiers attendees were invited to upload photos on Tweeter and Instgram and become a part of the world fabric of photographed citizens. This option is still available for you to participate in the "Digital Diaspora Family Reunion", one world one family website:

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"Through a Lens Darkly" was Inspired by the book, “Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers 1840 to the Present”, Deborah Willis author.

Cast and Credits

Director: Thomas Allen Harris

Screenwriters: Thomas Allen Harris, Don Perry, Paul Carter Harrison

Producers: Thomas Allen Harris, Kimberly Steward, Deborah Willis, Ann Bennett, Don Perry

Cinematographer: Martina Radwan

Editors: Kim Miille, Matthew Cohn

Composers: Vernon Reid, Miles Jay

Associate Producers: Sabrina Hawkins, Sheila Maniar

Production Associates: Sienna Pinterhughes, Natalie Shmuel

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