The purpose of this photo-essay is two-fold.
First, after our discussion on Thursday I recognized my own mis-education of the Negro. My education, my community and my social location did not allow me to explore the culture of the African American in the arts, sciences, philosophies, etc. I wanted to use this post as a way to explore the world of black photography and thus discovered the talents of James Van Der Zee, Gordon Park and Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe. I believe that my education should have allowed me to be as familiar with this work as I am with the work of Chuck Close, Dorothea Lange or Annie Leibovitz. I am also concerned, as Woodson points out, that even in black institutions and colleges students are not exposed to this work because higher education is told to prefer the arts of Europe and philosophies of the Mediterranean. (94)
Second, I think this work exposes the struggle between the emerging middle-class black community and the uneducated black community that Woodson references. Comparing Van Der Zee’s photo of the fur-coat and Cadillac couple with Gordon Park’s American Gothic photo of Ella Watson, you can see the transition the black community was forced to undertake in the 20th century. For me, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe’s work as a photographer shows the struggle of a black woman to find her place in a professional world that has not been popularized within her culture or found as legitimate within arts academia.
Woodson says, “It is true that many Negroes do not desire to hear anything about their race, and few Whites of today will listen to the story of woe. With most of them the race question has been settled.” (91) Like Woodson suggests, we must combat this attitude through education and the arts. I believe these photographers offer me, as a white woman, the opportunity to be educated in a woeful American story and to be unsettled in how I perceive the world.