ASMP — American Society of Media Photographers

Why Deborah Willis Thinks the Photobook Can Be Transformative

Screenshot of article on Deborah Willis posted on apertureCross-posted from aperture
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In 1973, Dr. Deborah Willis, then an undergraduate photography student at the Philadelphia College of Art (UArts), submitted an independent research proposal about the contributions of Black photographers to the history of American photography from 1840 to 1940. Willis had sent fifty letters to various collections and libraries, seeking information about photographers such as Gordon Parks and James Van Der Zee. “Is a photographer primarily a creative artist rather than a mere recorder?” she asked. “Could these black photographers receive the same recognition their white colleagues received?” Across her prolific career as an archivist, historian, professor, and photographer, Willis has answered these questions about recognition through her groundbreaking studies of Black photographers, her contribution to numerous photobooks, and her support over the years of artists and writers seeking to make space for an expanded, more inclusive history of the medium.

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