Black is Beautiful: 6 Stunning Photography Books to Celebrate Black History Month
We’re carrying on our bookish celebration of Black History Month with these 6 gorgeous photography books. Spanning everything from contemporary fashion to African-American history, these photobooks are gorgeous celebrations of Black lives.
If you’d like to purchase any of these books, we’d highly recommend seeking out your local independent bookstore. Your business helps ensure the survival of these vital cultural institutions during this difficult time.
1. Kwame Brathwaite: Black is Beautiful by Kwame Brathwaite
In the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, Kwame Brathwaite used his photography to popularize the political slogan “Black Is Beautiful.” This monograph—the first-ever dedicated to Brathwaite’s remarkable career—tells the story of a key, but under-recognized, figure of the second Harlem Renaissance.
Inspired by the writings of activist and black nationalist Marcus Garvey, Brathwaite, along with his older brother, Elombe Brath, founded the African Jazz Arts Society and Studios (AJASS) and the Grandassa Models (1962). AJASS was a collective of artists, playwrights, designers, and dancers; Grandassa Models was a modeling agency for black women, founded to challenge white beauty standards. From stunning studio portraits of the Grandassa Models to behind-the-scenes images of Harlem’s artistic community, including Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln, and Miles Davis, this book offers a long-overdue exploration of Brathwaite’s life and work.
2. The New Black Vanguard by Antwaun Sargent
In a richly illustrated essay, curator and critic Antwaun Sargent addresses a radical transformation taking place in fashion, art, and the visual vocabulary around beauty and the body. In The New Black Vanguard, fifteen artist portfolios and a series of conversations feature the brightest contemporary fashion photographers. Their images and stories chart the history of inclusion (and exclusion) in the creation of the Black fashion image, while simultaneously proposing a brilliantly reenvisioned future.
3. The Black Civil War Soldier by Deborah Willis
A stunning collection of stoic portraits and intimate ephemera from the lives of Black Civil War soldiers.
Though both the Union and Confederate armies excluded African American men from their initial calls to arms, many of the men who eventually served were black. Simultaneously, photography culture blossomed—marking the Civil War as the first conflict to be extensively documented through photographs. In The Black Civil War Soldier, Deb Willis explores the crucial role of photography in (re)telling and shaping African American narratives of the Civil War, pulling from a dynamic visual archive that has largely gone unacknowledged..
4. Dandy Lion: The Black Dandy and Street Style by Shantrelle P. Lewis
Black men appropriating, subverting, and reinventing the dress styles of society elites—described as “high-styled rebels” by author Shantrelle P. Lewis—are influencing the language of contemporary fashion. Dandy Lion presents and celebrates the black dandy movement, and its designers and tailors, in photographs and stories from all over the world.
5. Pictures with Purpose
Pictures with Purpose, the seventh volume in the Double Exposure series, explores images from the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s collection of nineteenth and early twentieth-century photography that includes daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, cartes de visite, cabinet cards, cyanotypes, stereographs, and other early photographic forms. The volume looks at how early photographs of and by African Americans were circulated and used, and considers their meaning, for the sitter, for the photographer, and for the owner of the photograph. Particularly significant is how African Americans used photography to shape their image within and beyond their communities.
6. Civil Rights and the Promise of Equality
The powerful images depicted in this volume include many of the photographs that helped to galvanize support from around the world for the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Among them are photographs from Leonard Freed’s series, “Black in White America,” Ernest C. Withers’ signature photograph of the Sanitation Workers’ Solidarity March in Memphis, Tennessee, and Charles Moore’s documentation of police brutality during the 1963 Children’s Crusade in Birmingham, Alabama. Also featured are Spider Martin’s shots of the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965, including the iconic Two Minute Warning, James H. Wallace’s visual record of a Ku Klux Klan rally in 1964, and Burk Uzzle’s images following Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. In addition to over 60 photographs, this volume features a foreword by Founding Director Lonnie G. Bunch III, along with essays by civil rights leader and United States Representative the late John Lewis, and activist Bryan Stevenson.