In this interview, artist and scholar Deborah Willis describes the work of excavating and organizing the history of Black photography. Willis’s groundbreaking scholarship helped to formally establish an archive of Black visual practice before libraries and cultural institutions began to purposely catalogue such materials. Across projects, she has engaged questions of beauty, citizenship, Black culture, and family history from the nineteenth century to the present by closely examining the camera practices of legendary photographers and the cultural contexts surrounding iconic images. In this interview, Willis describes her research as a student relying on periodical records as well as on the support of Black artists such as Roy DeCarava, Carrie Mae Weems, Gordon Parks, and James VanDerZee. This conversation with the author intertwines Willis’s personal history and the history of creating a visual archive to offer a look back and a look forward at the practice of Black photography.

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