Everyday Beauty

Selections from the Photography and Film Collection

The Earl W. and Amanda Stafford Center for African American Media Arts (CAAMA) is dedicated to exploring the formation of African American history and culture through media arts, including photography, film, video, and audio recordings. Everyday Beauty presented a photography and film exhibition featuring 100 images and rarely seen films from the Museum’s growing photography and moving image collection.

Everyday Beauty used the lenses of history, culture, and community to reflect themes of self-representation, social responsibility, and resilience. African Americans have long recognized the power of images and used them to document moments – from the monumental to everyday. Photography and film has also been used to challenge negative perceptions, demonstrate the strength of the human spirit, and promote social reform. This exhibition examined African American history and culture by presenting 100 images spanning 100 years. These selected works highlighted the beauty of everyday occasions and feature photography and films by known and lesser-known artists.

Everyday Beauty was divided into five themes:

  • Self-presentation highlights how African Americans used photography to challenge negative perceptions of themselves. Photographs are presented in a variety of formats – from tintypes, daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, postcards, family snapshots, and vintage prints – and highlight black people’s longstanding engagement with visual culture.
  • Courtship and Family recognizes families are a critical part of any community, and have been an essential source of strength for African Americans who have faced discrimination and persevered during some of the bleakest and brightest moments in American history.
  • Faith and Activism focuses on how African Americans used the power of faith, determination, formal and informal institutions, to help move the dial of justice forward.
  • Education and Uplift explores the ways African American communities went to great lengths to receive an education and challenge the doctrine of “separate but equal.”
  • Work and Play serves as a visual reminder of universal human experiences while helping shape understandings of the social conditions surrounding black life. African Americans experienced levity and the chance to enjoy life’s simple moments, even in the midst of adversity.
Photograph of a railroad passenger car maintenance man, 1946-48. © Magnum Photos

Untitled, 1946-48
A railroad passenger car maintenance man
From the series The Way of Life of the Northern Negro
Wayne F. Miller
© Magnum Photos, 2009.24.8

Exhibition Experience

Photographs from the NMAAHC Collection

Featured objects include an 1874 marriage certificate containing tintypes of an African American couple related to abolitionist and statesman Frederick Douglass. Early African American photographers J.P. Ball and Arthur Bedou are included alongside photographs by Louis Draper, Wayne F. Miller, Charles “Teenie” Harris, Gordon Parks, Joe Schwartz, James Van Der Zee, Ernest C. Withers, and more.

Rev. S.S. Jones' Home Movie Footage 

In addition to the 100 images in the gallery, the exhibition will feature rarely seen film footage from Rev. S.S. Jones, an amateur filmmaker, Baptist minister and businessman based in Oklahoma. Jones’ home movie footage shows vibrant African American communities in Oklahoma in the 1920s, several years after the Tulsa riots. 

Interactive Table

Also included in CAAMA is an interactive table that further explores the exhibition’s five themes and provides annotations and biographical information about featured photographers, and clips of rarely seen documentary films. It also highlights three family photo collections: the Heilig family from Earle, Arkansas, the Scurlock family from Washington, DC, and Laura Fitzpatrick from Brooklyn, New York

The Heilig images show a family who created successful businesses in the South during the Jim Crow era.The Scurlock family photographs offer a rare and personal glimpse into a family that represented and documented Washington, D.C.’s growing black middle class. The Fitzpatrick photo album features the work of a young amateur photographer who captured life in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, NY from 1938 – 1948 and provides a personal and historical look into Brooklyn’s African American community after WWII.