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RCAH Assistant Professor Tama Hamilton-Wray and Associate Professor Carolyn Loeb have collaborated to present the current exhibit on display in the LookOut! Art Gallery. Through a Black Lens: Detroit 1967, is an exhibition of African-American photojournalism and Detroit’s 1967 urban upheaval in photographs, videos, and other eyewitness accounts curated to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the event.
The curators’ purpose in putting together this exhibit was to showcase not only the photojournalism of the time, but also the individual photojournalists. “Oftentimes marginalized communities—women, African Americans—their histories are hidden,” said Hamilton-Wray. This proved to be true throughout Hamilton-Wray’s and Loeb’s work on the exhibit.
“Often we found photographs weren’t attributed when they were published,” said Loeb. Photographers and photojournalists, particularly Black photographers, were frequently absent from newspapers’ bylines. “Most mainstream newspapers, the Detroit Free Press for instance, did not have any Black photographers in their newsroom—or journalists for that matter,” said Hamilton-Wray.
Delving into publications of the Black press such as the Michigan Chronicle, Hamilton-Wray and Loeb searched for Black photographers and photojournalists. This search was made much more difficult by the fact that the archives of the Michigan Chronicle no longer exist. This coupled with the lack of attributions of photos to specific photographers made for extremely demanding investigation.
“The whole thing was detective work—a treasure hunt,” said Loeb about the six-month process she and Hamilton-Wray had undertaken in embarking on this endeavor. “Each of these photographers that we learned about has their own story that gives enormous texture to the piece as a whole,” said Loeb.
Loeb said she hopes “people can get curious to know more about the work” that’s in the exhibit. For those unfamiliar with the urban upheaval in Detroit in 1967, this informative exhibit can shed light on these historical events. Hamilton Wray said, “We’re hoping that people can draw a sense of what the moment was like by looking at those photographs.”
For those who are familiar with and lived through the event, the exhibit might offer something different. “This gives them a moment to come in and revisit it. This is a moment for people to reflect on that,” said Hamilton-Wray. “People’s lives were not the same afterwards.”
In addition to the artifacts, Hamilton-Wray and Loeb hosted a panel on April 6 in conversation with the exhibit.
“In choosing panelists, we thought about the areas that we wanted to give more context to,” said Hamilton-Wray. Dr. Melvin Peters, a professor of African American studies at Eastern Michigan University, was able to provide additional background to what happened in Detroit in 1967. Also appearing on the panel was Eugene Cain, described by Hamilton-Wray as “a young professional at that moment in the city.” Cain was a photographer at the time and offered an eyewitness account of Detroit 1967. Lastly, Rina Risper, founder and publisher of The New Citizens Press, a Black newspaper in Lansing, appeared on the panel as well. Risper was able to provide “the unique perspective on who the Black press is, what role they play in community, and what some of their unique challenges are,” said Hamilton-Wray.
Through a Black Lens: Detroit 1967 will be in the LookOut! Art Gallery through April 20th, 2017. The LookOut! Art Gallery is open from noon to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and by appointment.
View a student-produced video about Through a Black Lens here.
Story by RCAH student Caileigh Grant. Photos by RCAH student Samantha Kinjorski.