Saturday, January 19, 2013

Envisioning Emancipation

Apparently, this somewhat celebratory moment that commemorates the Emancipation Proclamation isn't lost on Hollywood or the media. There are an avalanche of movies, documentaries, exhibits and the like that are to be released within the next two years. Here's a little something that caught my eye. 

The book Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and The End of Slavery -- released on January 1st by Temple University Press -- has me spellbound. I get lost inside those faces, their collective stance, the feel of it all. They are somber, elegant and in most instances, they are painfully well dressed. What's especially disturbing is that they look too familiar. I remember thinking, I know that look on that little boy's face. The way that soldier's shoulder is thrown back, the way her arms are folded. If I look at those pictures for too long, I can almost sense their thoughts. It's all so dignified, so full of self-respect and hope.

Many of the photos have never been seen before. God only knows where they were hidden or how they were found. 

Images in media are so much more important than we think they are.  As we are shown someone else's perspective of us, we are taught so many things  -- who we are, what we look like, where we stand, whether we truly matter.  For God knows how long -- for too long, really -- we have seen ourselves through the bluest eye. And now this: thousands of photographs taken by us, for us -- black photographers capturing snapshots of black people as they stand on the brink of freedom and true self-determination. I have seen other pictures from this era and when I look at these, I can feel the difference.

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