Born in 1960s Harlem, the Kamoinge collective was influential in Black photography but ignored by the mainstream until recently. This exhibition should change that.
Shawn Walker was up on 125th Street with Louis Draper and Ray Francis, hanging out and taking pictures. It was the summer of 1964 and the friends, in their 20s, were members of a fledgling photography collective in Harlem called the Kamoinge Workshop. That’s when the celebrated photographer Roy DeCarava walked up. The workshop’s mentor at the time, DeCarava was on assignment that day for Newsweek.
Harlem had just experienced riots, after the killing of an unarmed Black man by an off-duty cop. Newsweek’s editors needed an image to suit the angle of their cover story — “Harlem: Hatred in the Streets.” DeCarava delivered a shot of three men looking stern, framed close with set jaws and steely gaze.
The picture was staged. It was of Mr. Walker and his friends — bohemians whose Sunday meetings mixed critiques of one another’s photographs with talk of art history and the latest Italian cinema — who were instructed to look angry by DeCarava and the white art director who accompanied him. “We just ran into each other, we were chatting, and Roy comes up,” Mr. Walker recalled. “If anything was happening you went to 125th Street.”