The Coffee Table

Black Beauty

Deborah Willis's extraordinary compendium shows the beauty of black culture.

Book Cover It stands to reason that the impressive Deborah Willis (Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers 1840 to the Present), MacArthur fellow, artist, photographer, curator, historian, author, and educator who currently chairs the New York University’s photography department would curate/edit an impressive collection of photography that fills a large gap in the mainstream American culture—the lack of images of black beauty—Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present (W.W. Norton). For Willis, the compilation “is the culmination of my exploration of beauty within black culture and through the medium of photography.”

Over two hundred images by more than a hundred photographers, some well known—Carl van Vechten, Eve Arnold, Lee Friedlander, Carrie Mae Weem—others simply family photographers or noted as Unidentified Photographer. Culled from archives, galleries, photographers, friends, and family we see James Baldwin (not exactly most people’s ideal of beauty), Marian Anderson, Joe Louis, Billie Holiday, Josephine Baker, Angela Davis, Muhammad Ali, Denzel Washington, Lil’ Kim, Michelle Obama, barber shops, body-building contests, prom nights, and much more.
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