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7 Photo Books to Celebrate Black History Month

February 16, 2023 by Marie Joabar

In celebration of Black History month, we would like share this collection of photography books. Each beautifully showcases some aspect of black history in America; black culture, black community and everyday life, black photographers, portraits of Harlem’s artistic community, civil rights issues, and more.

“A picture is worth a thousand words” and anyone who enjoys photography will find examples of how to tell a captivating story thru the lens. And everyone, even non-photographers, will find powerful stories expressed through the amazing images in these books.

We hope you’ll explore the selection!

Black: A Celebration of a Culture

By Deborah Willis - Black, A Celebration of a Culture, presents the vibrant panorama of 20th-century black culture in America and around the world. The photos tell one story that resonates throughout the world. Broken up into segments that examine in detail such subjects as children, work, art, beauty, Saturday night and Sunday morning, the photos detail the history and the evolution of a culture. Each photograph, hand-picked by Deborah Willis, America's leading historian of African-American photography, celebrates the world of music, art, fashion, sports, family, worship or play. With over 500 photographs from every time period from the birth of photography to the birth of hip hop, this book is a truly joyous exhibition of black culture. From Jessie Owens to Barry Bonds, Ella Fitzgerald to Halle Berry, Black: A Celebration of a Culture is joyous and inspiring. 


Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers 1840 to the Present 

By Deborah Willis - Reflections in Black, the first comprehensive history of black photographers, is a groundbreaking pictorial collection of African American life. Featuring the work of undisputed masters such as James VanDerZee, Gordon Parks, and Carrie Mae Weems among dozens of others, this book is a refutation of the gross caricature of black life that many mainstream photographers have manifested by continually emphasizing poverty over family, despair over hope. Nearly 600 images offer rich, moving glimpses of everyday black life, from slavery to the Great Migration to contemporary suburban life, including rare antebellum daguerreotypes, photojournalism of the civil rights era, and multimedia portraits of middle-class families. A work so significant that it has the power to reconfigure our conception of American history itself, Reflections in Black demands to be included in every American family's library as an essential part of our heritage. 600 duotone photographs, 32 pages of color.


Black Archives: A Photographic Celebration of Black Life 

By Renata Cherlise - A photographic celebration and exploration of Black identity and experience through the twentieth century from the founder and curator of the hit multimedia platform Black Archives.
   Renata Cherlise’s family loved capturing their lives in photographs and home movies, sparking her love of archival photography. Following in her family’s footsteps, Cherlise established Black Archives, which presents a nuanced representation of Black people across time living vibrant, ordinary lives. Through the platform, many have discovered and shared images of themselves and their loved ones experiencing daily life, forming multidimensional portraits of people, places, and the Black community. These photographs not only tell captivating stories, they hold space for collective memory and kinship. 
   Featuring more than three hundred images that spotlight the iconic and the candid, Black Archives offers a nuanced compendium of Black memory and imagination.


African American Women (Double Exposure)

By Natasha Trethewey - Volume 3 of Double Exposure highlights NMAAHC's rich collection of photographs of African American women, some of whom are cultural icons. This volume demonstrates the dignity, joy, heartbreak, commitment, and sacrifice of women of all ages and backgrounds, with photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Beverly Conley, Robert Galbraith, Ernest C. Withers, Wayne F. Miller, P.H. Polk, Joe Schwartz, and Milton Williams.


Everyday Beauty (Double Exposure, 6)

By Robin Givhan - Everyday Beauty features fifty-five images that pay visual tribute to the extraordinary style and aesthetic of African American figures, famous and anonymous, by highlighting themes of self-representation, resilience, and civic engagement. The photographs depict people across generations showing how staged and candid moments can be both beautiful and precious. African Americans have long recognized the power of images and used them to document moments―from the monumental to everyday.
This volume in the critically acclaimed Double Exposure series presents a range of photographic styles by celebrated photographers as well as snapshots by unknown amateurs.  Explore all of the books in the Double Exposure series from the National Museum of African American History and Culture.


Freedom & Justice: Four Decades of the Civil Rights Struggle As Seen by a Black Photographer of the Deep South 

By Cecil J. Williams - This is a photographic journey back into the legally segregated world in which I grew up. A world entirely shaped by race and color. This book is an eyewitness account of many sociological events having a direct impact on my life. These events also affected the lives of millions of blacks and whites, especially those who lived in the Deep South. My pictures most often salute the unknown people who put their lives on the line to confront and change a system of segregation and racism. At a time when our nation still struggles with the issue of race, hopefully this book will promote racial harmony and the need for acceptance shared by all people, despite their racial, ethnic, and religious heritage.


Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful

By Kwame Brathwaite - In the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, Kwame Brathwaite used his photography to popularize the political slogan “Black Is Beautiful.” This monograph—the first ever dedicated to Brathwaite’s remarkable career—tells the story of a key, but under-recognized, figure of the second Harlem Renaissance.
   Inspired by the writings of activist and black nationalist Marcus Garvey, Brathwaite, along with his older brother, Elombe Brath, founded the African Jazz Arts Society and Studios (AJASS) and the Grandassa Models (1962). AJASS was a collective of artists, playwrights, designers, and dancers; Grandassa Models was a modeling troupe for black women, founded to challenge white beauty standards. From stunning studio portraits of the Grandassa Models to behind-the-scenes images of Harlem’s artistic community, including Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln, and Miles Davis, this book offers a long-overdue exploration of Brathwaite’s life and work.