Ater appeared at the Smithsonian American Art Museum today to deliver a lecture designed to kick off the museum's new exhibit African-American Art: The Harlem Renaissance, The Civil Rights Era, and Beyond, which features works from 43 black artists.
Entitled Telling Stories, Sending Messages: Insight and Inspiration for African-American Photography in the mid-20th Century, Ater's remarks focused on 3 black and white pictures included in the exhibit. They were:
- "Make a Wish (Bronx Slave Market, 170th Street, New York" (1938) by Robert McNeil
- "Harlem - Gang Warfare" (1948) by Gordon Parks
- "Graduation" (1949) by Roy DeCarava
"You have the dignity of the well-dressed women against the indignity of their working conditions," Ater said. "And then there is irony of the movie poster behind them. What are they wishing for?"
In "Harlem - Gang Warfare", Parks graphically captured Jackson and 5 other African-American young men engaged in a violent night-time gang rumble. Ater said Parks undertook his 4-week chronicle into Jackson's world to show "the limited choices for young people in a world of poverty and discrimination. He wanted it to serve as a window into the toughness of that life."
In the 1940s, Roy DeCarava shot a series of symbolic pictures "to show the strength, the wisdom, the dignity of the Negro people." In "Graduation," DeCarava captures a young teenager in her gown heading down the debris-strewn streets of Harlem past an empty lot strewed with trash. "There are many questions here," Ater said. "Is this a picture of potential or a condemnation of urban blight? It is a powerful picture."
Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
If you would like to see the exhibit for yourself, you do have quite a bit of time. It is scheduled to run until Sept. 3