Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Nontsikelelo Veleko, Hloni, 2004 (2094.2005)

Okwui Enwezor’s 2006 exhibition at ICP entitled Snap Judgments: New Positions in Contemporary African Photography is still vitally important. His central concern shattered the omnipresent myth often limiting Africa to a static vision marked by disaster and poverty. The works offered a strong repudiation to this narrative and challenged viewers on many of their assumptions. The photographs such as Hloni from Nontsikelelo “Lolo” Veleko, originally from Cape Town and currently living in France, presented Johannesburg with complexity, nuance, and a range of possible interpretations. As with others in her series Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder from 2004, this image exemplifies her subjects’ refusal to be passively represented. Instead they resolutely and forcefully declare their presence. Hloni affixes the viewer with a direct gaze as he stands in the middle of a street. A van behind him offers a metaphorical push into the future as opposed to a glance into the past. His connection to the viewer, combined with the bright colors of his ensemble, generates an electric energy and tension within the frame. For her project, Veleko focused on contemporary fashion in Johannesburg. Her series commented on one’s ability and choice to play with constructed identities and signifiers that subverted expectations and stereotypes. Even now, her portrait remains contemporary and time spent with it continues to yield exciting and valuable insights.

Sasha Bush, ICP-Bard 2017

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Paul Robeson – “A Symbol of Freedom and Human Dignity”


Vandamm Studio, Paul Robeson, 1930s (1558.1990)

Paul Robeson
His Life

Robeson is a college man – a graduate of Rutgers and Columbia Universities, with degrees from both institutions. He is athlete – scholar – actor – singer, and outstanding in these fields.
He was born in Princeton, N.J., on April 9, 1898. His father, born in slavery, was a minister – his mother, a school-teacher. The family moved some years later to Somerville (N.J.), where Robeson [1898-1976] went to school and sang in the choir of his father’s church. Even before he entered Rutgers, he had made a reputation for himself as a debater. One day, two Rutgers professors, acting as judges in a high school debate in which Robeson took part, were impressed by his sincerity and powerful, moving voice. They asked him later if he had thought of college, and encouraged him to enter Rutgers.
Robeson did so with the idea of following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a preacher. But his prowess at football was such as to make him All End man for two seasons. After winning his degree in Rutgers he played for two seasons in professional football. Then he decided to take a post-graduate degree in law at Columbia. He completed the three year course at Columbia University and took his degree. At the time of graduation he appeared in a play in a nearby Y.M.C.A. The rising Eugene O’Neill, playwright, Kenneth McGowan, producer, and Robert E Jones, scenic director happened to be in the audience. They were vividly impressed with the young negro’s talent, and Mr. O’Neill went back stage and asked Robeson to appear in his “Emperor Jones”. Robeson laughed at the idea, but O’Neill insisted.

Edward Steichen (1879–1973), Paul Robeson as “The Emperor Jones”, 1935 (783.1984)

Robeson was finally persuaded to try for the part. To his astonishment he found himself taking the final curtain to a widely cheering audience, first of many he was to know in his exciting career. There was now no resisting the tide which carried him on to other stage triumphs, “All God’s Chillun,” “Black Boy”, “Porgy” and eventually his unforgettable appearance in “Show Boat.” He definitely abandoned all thought of a law career. His phenomenal success lay not alone in his dramatic gifts but in the marvelous quality of his speaking voice.
He had always loved to sing but it had never occurred to him to consider the concert stage until he was induced to give a recital of Negro spirituals in New York. The emotional splendor of his resonant bass-baritone held spellbound the throng that had come to hear him. For his next concert a long line waited in snowstorm, only to find the house sold-out. Soon after, he went abroad and sensational reports of music successes drifted back from London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Prague and Budapest.

Robert Capa (1913-1954), [Dorothy Maynor and Paul Robeson at the party following the soprano’s Town Hall debut, New York ], November 19, 1939 (2830.1992)

His return to America was in the nature of a triumphal entry. He was now a world-famed singer and his own native land was waiting to acclaim him. From coast to coast he toured, thrilling the ear and the soul through the medium of his great voice.
Back to Europe again for long concert tours and a career in motion pictures, topped by the film version of “Emperor Jones”, Robeson remained away for four years during which time Americans missed his concerts and the emotion-charged beauty of his singing. Not to have heard Robeson sing “Deep River” and “Water Boy” is to have missed an exalted experience.

Gordon Coster (1906–1988), Paul Robeson, 1940s, (2010.119.13)

His return to this country in 1940 was signalized by one of the most exciting radio adventures of the season, the first performance of Earl Robinson’s folk-oratorio “Ballad for Americans“, a work whose freshness of spirit and novelty of style opened up an entirely new concept of American music. It was introduced at the premiere of the Columbia Broadcasting System’s new “Pursuit of Happiness” program and has since been released in stirring recordings.

Paul Robeson has played since then the part of Othello in the Margaret Webster Production of the tragedy by William Shakespeare. His London and New York success in that great tragedy was repeated in every city where it was shown last season. Montreal won’t forget his interpretation of the Moor with the outstanding Iago of Jose Ferrer. Back to the concert stage Paul Robeson will return to his regular public everywhere in Canada and in the United States.

Source: [Paul Robeson Othello performance schedule], 1944-45 (1402.1990)

[Paul Robeson Othello performance schedule], 1944-45 (1402.1990)

More information about the life of Paul Robeson:
Interview with Paul Robeson at KPFA in 1958, from
Listen to Rare, Beautiful Music from the Robeson Archives” – from

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“It’s Chili Time”

Ferenc Berko (1916-2000), [Hamburger and chili stand, Chicago], 1949 (593.1993)

Weegee (1899-1993), [Hot Dog with Chili Con Carne], ca. 1950 (19049.1993)

According to chili con carne originated in San Antonio, Texas in the late 1800s.

Bill Wood (1912-1973), [Display of Patio Mexican Foods Canned Products, Fort Worth, Texas], 1953 (2011.2.39)

Bill Wood (1912-1973), [“It’s Chili Time”: Canned chili and saltines display, Fort Worth, Texas], 1960 (2011.2.101)

“A Mark of Wholesome Meat,” U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1964
From The Prelinger Archives on

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Malcolm X

Gordon Park
s, L.A. Courtroom, Malcolm X displaying pictures of Muslim Ronald Stokes, killed by police a year earlier,  1963 (178.2003)

In the May 31st, 1963 issue of Life magazine, Gordon Parks wrote a compelling article. Together with his photographs and through the words of his personal observations and conversations, Parks examined the position of the African-American community during the Civil Rights Movement.

The excerpt below highlights the context of the photograph Parks took during the trial of 14 Muslim men. The men were charged with the assault and interference of a police officer after Ronald Stokes, an unarmed young Muslim man, had been killed by police gun fire. Gordon Parks:

“I watched Malcolm X seated in the front row, directly across from the all-white jury. His face was sphinxlike and his eyes never left Officer Donald Weese, the killer of Stokes, from the moment the policeman took the stand until he got off. During the preliminary hearings it had been established that Weese, though he knew the Muslims were unarmed, shot at least four other men besides Stokes and beat another one down with the butt of his gun. The following questions by Attorney Earl Broady and answers from Officer Weese are from the court records of the trial:
Question–Mr. Weese, when you fired at Stokes, did you intend to hit him?
Answer–Yes, I did.
Q–Did you intend to hit him and kill him?
A–Yes. The fact that I shot to stop and the fact that I shot to kill is one and the same, sir. I am not Hopalong Cassidy. I cannot distinguish between hitting an arm and so forth, sir. I aimed dead center and I hoped I hit.
Q–You are saying, sir, to shoot is to stop and to shoot to kill is one and the same thing in your mind.
A–That is correct.
Q–Did you feel to protect yourself and your partner it was necessary to kill these men?
A–That is correct, sir.

Further along in the article Parks writes:

[But] with the passiveness of King and the extremism of Muhammad, the Negro rebellion has come alive. Fire hoses, police dogs, mobs or guns can’t put it down. The Muslims, the N.A.A.C.P., the Urban League, Black Nationalist groups, the sit-inners, sit-downers. Freedom Riders and what-have-you are all compelled into a vortex of common protest. Black people who only a few months ago spoke with the polite moderation are suddenly clamoring for freedom.

52 years ago today, February 21st, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated onstage at the Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom. He was 39 years old.

This post is published to honor African American History Month.

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Early Light/Radiant AG-1B (C-902)

Marco Breuer, Early Light/Radiant AG-1B (C-902), 2009 (2011.59.1)

Marco Breuer was born in 1966 in Landshut, Germany. Since his move to New York in 1993, the vast majority of his work has been cameraless, abstract imagery on paper. He uses chromogenic paper, which consists of three separate color emulsion layers that are developed in a liquid bath. In a restrained markmaking, Breuer often scrapes away emulsion to reveal new tonal variation, challenging the definition of photography. Breuer’s body of abstract photographic work reveals his commitment to medium specificity. Early Light/Radiant  AG-1B (C-902) is an uncommon departure from the direct index of the artist’s hand. This fairly representational photograph is fascinating for being so uncharacteristic of Breuer, but more so because the ambiguity of a sunrise or sunset is apt subject matter for him. Breuer is an artist whose work finds its genesis in mining the fixed traces of photons, but whose beloved analog process becomes more rare every day.

Sam Margevicius, ICP-Bard 2017

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[Wooden chair in front of a landscape backdrop]


Unidentified Photographer, [Wooden chair in front of a landscape backdrop], ca. 1860-1900 (2014.77.3)

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Sandinista uprising

Susan Meiselas, Sandino vive, Estelí, Nicaragua, 1980 (2008.86.9)

American photographer Susan Meiselas joined Magnum Photos in 1976 and has worked as a freelance photographer since. She is best known for the work she did documenting the 1978–79 Sandinista uprising in Nicaragua and the decade of political upheaval that followed in El SalvadorArgentinaColombia, and Chile. The FSLN (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, Sandinista National Liberation Front) party is named after Augusto César Sandino, who led the Nicaraguan resistance against the United States occupation of Nicaragua in the 1930s. The FSLN remains one of Nicaragua’s two leading political parties.

Meiselas’s widely published photographs made during this period are notable for the groundbreaking use of color at a time when most war photography and most US newspapers were still printed in black and white. In 2004, Meiselas returned to Nicaragua for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the uprising, installing nineteen mural-sized screens of her photographs in four towns where the pictures were taken and recorded the reactions of the Nicaraguan public.

Nechama Winston, ICP-Bard 2017

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