Speaker to discuss the black body and popular culture

Deborah Willis

The Oregon Humanities Center continues its exploration of the theme "Humanities" this winter with a lecture by New York University professor of photography and imaging Deborah Willis.

Willis will give an illustrated talk titled “Visualizing the Black Body in Photography and Popular Culture” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 12, in Room 182 Lillis Hall as this year’s O’Fallon Memorial Lecturer in Art and American Culture.

The lecture coincides with an exhibition at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, “Between the World and Me: Contemporary African American Artists Respond to Ta-Nehisi Coates.” Willis’ son, Hank Willis Thomas, is among the featured artists. 

“Images of the black subject — whether artistic, documentary or anthropological — are forever fixed in the popular imagination through photography,” Willis said. “Today, many of the black photographers working all over the diaspora are responding to social issues that take them beyond the sometimes-insular photographic community. They comment on politics, culture, family, and history from internal and external points of view … and are actively involved in changing the course of art history and fundamentally imaging the black in Western art.”

Willis is chair of the Department of Photography and Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU and an affiliated faculty member in Africana studies. She has pursued a dual professional career as an art photographer and a leading historian of African-American photography and curator of African-American culture. She is the recipient of many prestigious awards, including a Guggenheim in 2005 and a MacArthur Fellowship in 2000.

She also is the author of several books, including “Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery” with Barbara Krauthamer; “Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present”; and “Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers — 1840 to the Present.” Her book “Michelle Obama: The First Lady in Photographs” received the 2010 NAACP Image Award for outstanding literary work biography/autobiography.

The lecture will be followed by a book sale and signing. For more information go to ohc.uoregon.edu or call 541-346-3934.