Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present

Overview

Long overlooked in American culture, African American beauty finally get its due in this landmark work.
As a student in the 1970s, Deborah Willis came to the realization that images of black beauty, female and male, simply did not exist in the larger culture. Determined to redress this imbalance, Willis examined everything from vintage ladies’ journals to black newspapers, and started what would become a lifelong quest. With more than two hundred arresting images, many ...

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Overview

Long overlooked in American culture, African American beauty finally get its due in this landmark work.
As a student in the 1970s, Deborah Willis came to the realization that images of black beauty, female and male, simply did not exist in the larger culture. Determined to redress this imbalance, Willis examined everything from vintage ladies’ journals to black newspapers, and started what would become a lifelong quest. With more than two hundred arresting images, many previously unpublished, Posing Beauty recovers a world many never knew existed. Historical subjects such as Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker illuminate the past; Angela Davis and Muhammad Ali take us to the civil rights era; Denzel Washington, Lil’ Kim, and Michelle Obama celebrate the present. Featuring the works of more than one hundred photographers, including Carl van Vechten, Eve Arnold, Lee Friedlander, and Carrie Mae Weems, Willis’s book not only celebrates the lives of the famous but also captures the barber shop, the bodybuilding contest, and prom night. Posing Beauty challenges our most fundamental assumptions about what it means to be “beautiful.”

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Editorial Reviews

Vanessa Bush - Booklist
“Drawing on 10 years of research and photos from archives, galleries, photographers, friends, and family, Willis reflects the broad spectrum of images of beauty over more than a century. She examines how beauty is defined, exploited, manipulated, and marketed.... An aesthetic look at black beauty by the author of Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers, 1840 to the Present.”
Jennifer Baszile - The New York Times Book Review
“The book is a treasure, a triumph and a singular achievement that invites fresh and enduring insights with each viewing.”
Jennifer Baszile
…Willis makes a monumental contribution to contemporary American culture by presenting a definitive history of black beauty…With Posing Beauty, Willis has forever changed the conversation about beauty in American life. After centuries of exclusion and segregation in which African-American beauty existed on the margins of the culture, Willis offers readers a thoughtful and nuanced consideration of the relationship of beauty and power. She invites us to marvel at the glamour and elegance contained in the photographs, and in the process instructs us on how to expand the definition of beauty within our national imagination. In the pages of Posing Beauty, readers can appreciate African-American men and women as dandies and debutantes, models and beauty queens, politicians and clubwomen across the generations. The book is a treasure, a triumph and a singular achievement that invites fresh and enduring insights with each viewing.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Willis (Reflections in Black), a MacArthur fellow and chair of New York University's photography department, curates a collection of iconic portraits and snapshots by anonymous photographers in a “history of beauty that merges gender, race, family, class.” Willis's words, a distillation of her inquiries into beauty and race, are few—the images speak for themselves. The photographs, organized thematically, reach back to the 1890s and forward to the current first family. Famous photographers share perspective with family photographers and those known only as “Unidentified Photographer.” The recognizably famous—James Baldwin, Marian Anderson, Joe Louis—appear along with those known only as “Mom and Friend,” “Two women holding magazine, ca. 1950s” or “Barber cutting man's hair outdoors, ca. 1930s.” Willis's content is groundbreaking; rarely, for example, are men this adequately represented in a work devoted to “beauty within black culture.” For Willis, this extraordinary compilation is “the culmination of my exploration of beauty within black culture and through the medium of photography.” For readers, this is a dazzling eye-opener. (Nov.)
Elizabeth Wellington - Philadelphia Inquirer
“Like a family photo album . . . it is in these pictures that an inner beauty is captured. . . . These images didn't make the cover of Life, or even Ebony, but they capture the soulfulness of everyday life.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393066968
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/5/2009
  • Pages: 280
  • Sales rank: 436,796
  • Product dimensions: 9.40 (w) x 12.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Deborah Willis, a MacArthur, Guggenheim, and Fletcher Fellow, is the author of Reflections in Black, Posing Beauty, Michelle Obama: The First Lady in Photographs, and the New York Times bestseller Obama: The Historic Campaign in Photographs. She is chair of the photography department and a University Professor at New York University.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 10, 2010

    Coffee Table

    This book is definitely a beautiful pick. It's not the super large coffee table book, it's just right. The images are just absolutely gorgeous!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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