Department of Rhetoric and Writing

The University of Texas at Austin

African-American visual culture


Sidewalk cart in South chicago

Image Credit:  John H. White (1973) Image NWDNS-412-DA-13759

Portrait of Black Chicago for National Archives


John H. White's image of a sidewalk vendor in the South of Chicago in 1973 reminds me of Coye's and Laura's recent posts on the visuality of food culture.  Looking closely, one gleans an untold story of race, urban food markets, and of the style of life in Chicago in the 1970s.  White's series (Portrait of Black Chicago) was part of a program called Documerica, where the Environmental Protection Agency paid photographers to document environmental problems across America.  I really like White's photos for how they conveyed everything from emotionally saturating pictures of the Black Muslim community to pictures of abandoned housing in the ghettos to pictures of the lake and skyline.  White records narratives of race, which are intertwined with Chicago's political and religious history, but he also gives room to images of people's daily material lives in their environments, such as the initial photo above. I used this photo as part of the Best Practices for Digital images workshop, where we featured images archives that can enrich our teaching and scholarship.

Reverend Jesse James

Image Credit:  John H. White (1973) Image NWDNS-412-DA-13800

Portrait of Black Chicago for National Archives

It would be an interesting lesson to contrast the images of White, who is by the way a Pulitzer-prize winner now teaching at Columbia, to the Calvin Littlejohn Archive, which is housed here at UT-Austin.  The visuality of the Fort Worth, Texas black culture in the 1960's versus Chicago in the 1970's offers a way to understand the contrastive experiences of blacks across the nation, the specificity of lives across cities in the north and south, and across the time  of a decade.  Note that using the online images from the Calvin Littlejohn archive means you will be looking at the institutional watermark.  However, I think the images are still interesting and powerful.You could follow up with a third discussion of contemporary African-American photographic narratives (see video below). 


The video was published this February here on the UT-Austin site, along with the article "Photographer Eli Reed discusses being black in America."  The video itself is a montage of Eli Reed's photos, along with a conversation between Reed (who has been at UT since 2005), Roxanne Evans, Michael Hurd, and St. Edward's student Adam Semien.  For more of Reed's work, look on the Magnum photos site, and on the Digital Journalist blog.To range more of this kind of content, you could look as well at the New York Public Library's Digital Gallery on Africana and Black History.

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