The Black List

Walking through the gallery one can see images of him or herself at every turn without ever looking in a mirror. It is an incredible feeling to look at photo portraits in which you can see yourself, though the picture is not of you. The 50 photos that make up The Black List: Photographs by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders now on view at the National Portrait Gallery gives museum visitors that very feeling.  Several years ago photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and journalist Elvis Mitchell worked together to create a list of influential African Americans in the 20th Century. Their idea was to photograph, interview and chronicle the experiences of a vast array of men and women whose life work has contributed to the narrative of American and African American history and culture.  The subjects for this project would be pulled from arts & humanities, business, politics, academia, human rights and every field of human endeavor.  Those chosen would all become members of “the black list” – reclaiming the notion that to be on a black list meant something negative or undesirable. This reimagining of the black list would be positive and incredible.

The current exhibition includes photographs and an ongoing video of the accompanying interviews. Household names and faces like Chris Rock, Reverend Al Sharpton, Dr. Susan Rice and Serena Williams along with those whose names aren’t as widely known as their work are wonderfully captured. While you may have never met these individuals, the inviting portraits by Greenfield-Sanders makes you pause for a moment and consider if you’ve in fact known them forever in a familiar way.  

Two stand outs from the exhibit are the beautifully striking portrait of the Tony Award winning choreographer and director Bill T. Jones, and that of the regal Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem. The exhibition remains on view at the museum through April 22, 2012.

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