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Juneteenth: Commemorating the end of slavery in America

Juneteenth is the oldest American festival celebrating the end of slavery in the United States. Here are some films produced for the ICP Infinity Awards to help push the dialog forward.

The 1619 Project of the New York Times Magazine

Origin stories are important. They give us a sense of identity, purpose, and history. They help us understand who we are. But origin stories are notoriously incomplete; favoring certain historical details over others. The United States has such a story; a story written by men who celebrated universal rights while subjecting, demeaning and enslaving whole nations and communities of people. That horrific contradiction and its implications have rippled throughout American history.

Nikole Hannah-Jones, a domestic correspondent for The New York Times, has been thinking about that contradiction since high school when she learned of the date 1619; the first recorded date of forcibly enslaved peoples arriving in the colony of Virginia. Hannah-Jones wondered what it meant to be a country that was actually based on slavery? What would it mean for us if we considered 1619 our true origin and not 1776?

And that was the conceit of The 1619 Project; a massive effort by The New York Times Magazine, which was spearheaded and conceived of by Hannah-Jones to detail the history of slavery, it’s lasting effects within our culture, and to celebrate the often-suppressed role of formerly enslaved peoples in making American democracy manifest.

Critical Writing and Research: Race Stories by Maurice Berger

Maurice Berger–cultural historian, and columnist for the New York Times’ Race Stories–has spent his career studying and teaching racial literacy through visual literacy.
His intimate understanding of how visual culture impacts our notions of race has led him to create Race Stories, a monthly column for the New York Times that explores the ways that photography reflects the racial attitudes of our time. In his work, he hopes to provoke his readers to consider their own assumptions and prejudices, and to celebrate the contributions of photographers of color to our culture.
In this film, we explore how Maurice’s personal journey growing up as a white kid in a predominantly black and Latino neighborhood brought him to a unique understanding of the “value of white skin”; and how that in turn led him to become an ally and champion to some of the greatest black photographers of our time.

Applied: Alexandra Bell

How would the news look if editors saw the world as you do?
Alexandra Bell, a journalist with a keen eye for detail, exposes how language and imagery are used to perpetuate racist narratives in the mainstream media. A queer black woman who describes herself as a person at the margins, she offers a perspective that often confront the mainstream media’s racial attitudes. Her work takes the form of meticulous re-imaginings of New York Times pages. Her Counternarrative series shows how language, images and layout affect meaning.

Art: Dawoud Bey

For Dawoud Bey, a successful portrait reveals a person’s interiority. Perhaps this is why his work has been called a “civic act of seeing”. In a career spanning forty years, he has used photographs to serve as a counternarrative to the pathologized portrayals of people on the margins. From series as diverse as “Harlem U.S.A.” to “Class Pictures”, Bey allows subjects to engage directly with the viewer, developing intimacy between the two. Bey’s recent work pays homage to black trauma and history. “The Birmingham Project”, which gained him a MacArthur Genius Grant, aims to evoke what was lost during the 16th St. Baptist Church Bombing in 1963 and its aftermath. “The Underground Railroad” and “Night Coming Tenderly, Black” take space and location as its subjects to explore how enslaved people moved under the cover of night to escape towards freedom. Dawoud says that his work–whether it is the black subject, marginalized histories, or teenagers–is all about giving subjects their due value.

Critical Writing and Research: Zadie Smith

Writer Zadie Smith pays homage to photographer Deana Lawson in the artist’s first Monograph for Aperture. In this essay, Smith describes how Deana Lawson’s work uniquely places individuals from the African Diaspora in a “kingdom of restored glory”. Despite the circumstances her subjects might find themselves in–poverty, overcriminalization, systemic racism–in a Lawson portrait, they radiate royalty. Smith describes Lawson’s subjects as queens; men and women who are celebrated in ways they so rarely are by our visual culture. “Deana Lawson’s Kingdom of Restored Glory” is a tribute to a photographer who captures her subjects as they hope to be seen “beautiful, imperious, unfallen, unbroken”.

Publication: LaToya Ruby Frazier

As a child, LaToya Ruby Frazier could sense the steel industry’s hold on her hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania. Her body of work “The Notion of Family” examines the impact of the steel industry and the health care system on the community and her family. Collaborating with her mother and grandmother, she uses her family as a lens to view the past, present and future of the town.

Critical Writing and Research: Vision & Justice by Sarah Lewis and Michael Famighetti

Aperture Magazine’s landmark issue “Vision & Justice” explores how photography has been weaponized to both denigrate and celebrate African American life. Inspired by the words and actions of Frederick Douglass, this publication weaves together the works of poets, photographers, filmmakers and other artists who have used their art to combat the image war waged against people of color, particularly African Americans, in this country. They honor the work of African American photographers, like Lorna Simpson, Carrie Mae Weems, Jamel Shabazz, and Deborah Willis, who turned the lens to African American families at a time when the media was filled instead, with African American caricatures. This film pays homage to a seminal work in the history of American photography, one that recognizes ‘photography as a project of American citizenship’.

Online Platform & New Media: For Freedoms – Hank Willis Thomas & Eric Gottesman

For Freedoms is the first artist-run Super PAC. The PAC was founded during the 2016 U.S. presidential election by photographers and artists to engage in the political process and offer more complex messages than those seen in the mainstream media.
By using traditional political advertising tools, like highway and lawn signs, For Freedoms moved art beyond the museum walls to reach a much larger audience.

New Media: Question Bridge

There is perhaps no group more misunderstood or feared in America than black men. Question Bridge: Black Men sets out to change these preconceptions. According to Chris Johnson, one of the project’s creators, “It allows black male consciousness to become visible through the questions and answers that these black men have of each other.”
Created over a four-year period, Question Bridge: Black Men offers a stunningly simple but profound vantage point: the ability to listen in as black men talk to each other.
“Any monolithic idea we have of who black men are is immediately defeated when you see the amazing range of different values and lifestyles and attitudes and opinions that these men have.”
Since 1985, the International Center of Photography has recognized outstanding achievements in photography with its prestigious Infinity Awards. The awards ceremony is also ICP’s primary fundraising benefit, with its revenues assisting the center’s various programs.
Harbers Studios commissioned MediaStorm, on behalf of ICP, to create a short film about each of the recipients to screen at the awards ceremony and to display online. The films pay tribute to the contributions of each artist to the craft and field of photography and demonstrate ICP’s commitment to them.

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