Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present

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W.W. Norton & Company, 2009 - Photography - 243 pages
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Long overlooked in American culture, African American beauty finally get its due in this landmark work

As a student in the 1970s, Deborah Willis came to the realization that images of black beauty, female and male, simply did not exist in the larger culture. Determined to redress this imbalance, Willis examined everything from vintage ladies' journals to black newspapers, and started what would become a lifelong quest. With more than two hundred arresting images, many previously unpublished, Posing Beauty recovers a world many never knew existed. Historical subjects such as Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker illuminate the past; Angela Davis and Muhammad Ali take us to the civil rights era; Denzel Washington, Lil' Kim, and Michelle Obama celebrate the present. Featuring the works of more than one hundred photographers, including Carl van Vechten, Eve Arnold, Lee Friedlander, and Carrie Mae Weems, Willis's book not only celebrates the lives of the famous but also captures the barber shop, the bodybuilding contest, and prom night. Posing Beauty challenges our most fundamental assumptions about what it means to be "beautiful."

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About the author (2009)

Deborah Willis, a MacArthur, Guggenheim, and Fletcher Fellow, is the author of Reflections in Black, Posing Beauty, Michelle Obama: The First Lady in Photographs, and the New York Times bestseller Obama: The Historic Campaign in Photographs. She is chair of the photography department and a University Professor at New York University.

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