Shine: The Visual Economy of Light in African Diasporic Aesthetic Practice
Krista Thompson is Weinberg College Board of Visitors Professor and Associate Professor in the Department of Art History at Northwestern University. She is the author of An Eye for the Tropics: Tourism, Photography, and Framing the Caribbean Picturesque, also published by Duke University Press.
“Keep It Real”: Street Photography, Public Visibility, and Afro-Modernity
This chapter analyzes street photography, one of the most popular contemporary photographic portrait forms across black urban communities in the United States and Jamaica. In street photography clients pose for Polaroids or digital pictures before makeshift hand-painted photographic backdrops with specific consumer goods, and in front of an audience and bright lights. Despite the appearance of conspicuous consumption in the photographs, the chapter demonstrates that a visual economy, a system of value and status centered on visibility and light, sometimes leads to the negation of capitalist accumulation in street photography. Moreover, the public photographic studios are sites where notions of real, science fiction, fantasy, Afro-modernity, Afro-futurism, and memory are negotiated. This chapter also focuses on the contemporary art of the late Charles Nelson, whose Backdrop Project series investigated the form and function of street photography as well as notions of pictorial realism in Western painting and photography.