‘Through A Lens Darkly’ showcases Black photographers’ historic roles

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Rodrigo Hernandez

Photo Illustration.

Rodrigo Hernandez, Arts & Entertainment Editor

The documentary film “Through A Lens Darkly” examines the history of photography in regards to the formation of the representation, character and ambitions of African Americans from slavery to the modern-day.

The movie explores various events and moments throughout African American history, emphasizing the key role these pictures played. It focuses on the importance of having daguerreotypes of individuals and families from Black photographers dating back to the early 1800s and the impact the pictures of Emmett Till’s mutilated body had on America.

“Through A Lens Darkly” recovers images that have been suppressed from history and brings them to the forefront with a new light.

The documentary is the brainchild of Thomas Allen Harris, a photographer and filmmaker whose work explores the themes of identity, family and culture. Collaborating with Deborah Willis and other prominent image-makers, the result is an in-depth analysis of how photography served as a medium, outlet and visual record for African-Americans. 

Harris met Willis at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, where Harris was working on a project about the history of black photographers. Working together and with a community of fellow photographers, the film features works from Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson, Anthony Barboza, Hank Willis Thomas, Coco Flusco, Clarissa Sligh, and many others. 

As a journalist, I connected with the role that photojournalists and amateur photographers played in major historical events. These photographers were concerned and upset citizens who chose to use the camera as their weapon. Those photos serve as an imprint for history and inspiration for future photographers.

The result is an in-depth analysis of how photography served as a medium, outlet and visual record for African-Americans.

Capturing once-in-a-lifetime moments that represent that period of time is something that any photographer wishes for. This documentary showcasing the very best of African American imagery.

The film premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and won the “Justice Award” at the 2014 Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and later received “Outstanding Documentary” at the 2015 NAACP Image Awards. 

“Through A Lens Darkly” is available on Kanopy.

I give it an 8/10.