Picturing Americans…Insights come from everywhere!

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to participate in a convo, “Picturing Americans,” about Thomas Hart Benton as part of the opening festivities for “American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood” at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass.

IMG_1859

#PEMBentonSelfie

IMG_1857

Opening Reception (one of several!)

Thinking about Benton’s relationship to Hollywood and parallels with my research on Carl Van Vechten revealed an interesting thread via the director King Vidor. Benton went to Hollywood in 1937 on assignment for LIFE magazine. Van Vechten had gone a decade earlier in 1927 to write a series of articles for Vanity Fair. Both of them found Hollywoodland fascinating and at times repulsive.

Thomas Hart Benton by Carl Van Vechten

Thomas Hart Benton in 1935 by Carl Van Vechten

Van Vechten helped to catalyze the production of all-black cast musicals in the late 1920s. His infamous 1926 novel, Nigger Heaven, was considered for adaptation but this never came to pass. Talks with Vidor eventually led to his making the 1929 film, Hallelujah!, one of the first all-black cast feature films. Vidor admired Benton’s work and later purchased one of his paintings, The Negro and Alligator (1927) in the 1940s.

All three held complex views of African Americans that ranged from egregious stereotype to genuine admiration and empathy. All, of course, were the product of their times where the black vogue and jazz craze coexisted with the second heyday of the Klan, lynchings, and race riots. (Doesn’t sound much different from 2015, does it!?)

“American Epics” is a great exhibition and I had the chance to look at my research from a new angle. Win-win!

Chapter 1 is in the can!

Writer’s block was conquered and a decent draft of chapter 1 is complete. Summer is off to a good start.

This photograph Marlene Dietrich wearing her tuxedo from Morocco (1930) and this sketch by the Hollywood costume designer Travis Banton didn’t make it into the chapter so I thought I would share them here.

Viva deco dandies in tuxes!

Image

Image

 

“THROUGH A LENS DARKLY” to Premiere at Sundance Film Festival

I am supposed to appear as a talking head in this documentary about black photography.

Epic Documentary is First Film to Examine the Role of Black Photographers in Shaping Identity of African Americans from Slavery to the Present

Award-winning filmmaker/director/producer Thomas Allen Harris’ recently completed documentary film, THROUGH A LENS DARKLY: BLACK PHOTOGRAPHERS AND THE EMERGENCE OF A PEOPLE, will make its World Premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2014. This epic film, about contemporary artists and scholars probing the recesses of the American dream by interrogating images of stories suppressed, forgotten and lost, is the first documentary to explore the role of photography in shaping the identity, aspirations and social emergence of African Americans from slavery to the present. The film brings to light previously hidden and largely unknown images by both professional and vernacular African American photographers which add to our understanding of history by providing a window into lives, experiences and perspectives of Black families that is absent from the traditional historical canon.

“My whole team and I are extremely excited and humbled by this honor,” says Thomas Allen Harris. “Inspired by the work of our co-producer Deborah Willis, this project has been ten years in the making. We’re looking forward to audiences experiencing this incredible content, much of which has never been seen before.”

Ophelia Devore, founder of first black model agency, teams up with Emory University

Originally posted on theGrio:

ATLANTA, Ga. — The founder of one of America’s first modeling agencies to represent women of color has placed her papers at Emory University.

Pioneering entrepreneur Ophelia DeVore Mitchell set up the New-York-based Grace Del Marco in 1946 at a time when it was almost unthinkable for black women to be recognized in the media for their beauty.

In its early days, the groundbreaking agency paved the way for African-Americans to pursue careers in the fashion and entertainment industries.

Agency launched black superstars

Indeed, the agency and modeling school helped launch the early careers of actresses Diahann Carroll and Cicely Tyson.

It also represented people such as Gail Fisher; Richard Roundtree; Trudy Haynes, one of the first black female TV reporters; and Helen Williams, one of the first African-American fashion models to break into the mainstream.

DeVore’s extensive collection consists of thousands of items, from photos to scrapbooks relating to her…

View original 572 more words

How to Whitewash A Dandy: A Colorless Account of Queer Fashion History

By Tiffany Mott-Smith

http://taggmagazine.com/a-colorless-account-of-queer-fashion-history/

Queer Fashion History Exhibit: The Museum at FIT, 2013

Queer Fashion History Exhibit: The Museum at FIT, 2013

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Queer Fashion History Symposium. I spent six and half hours preparing for this event. Three minutes checking in with my editor for the event, 55 minutes looking for my press badge, two minutes watching my boifriend find my press badge hanging from my doorknob, 30 minutes dropping off my favorite pair of boots at Phillips Shoe Repair, 30 minutes spilling the tea with my favorite shoe repairman’s wife, 30 minutes re-adhering crystals to my favorite pair of boots, four hours deciding on approximately three outfits to match my favorite pair of boots. In case you are wondering, yes dear, these boots are everything!

Arriving at the symposium with my boots and badge in tow, I scanned the room with an immediate furrowed brow. I had imagined wild hair under elaborate chapeaus, statement necklaces and new romantic inspired street fashion. Instead I saw almost exclusively plain shoes, muted colors and dulled accessories- perhaps foreshadowing the day to come.

Continue reading

CHIC Fancy Black History Through Fashion and Style: Dorothea Towles Church

Originally posted on Oh CHIC Fancy Huh!?:

I am a loyal reader of various fashion magazines. I love flipping through the pages, reading the various articles and fashion tips, but most importantly seeing the most beautiful clothes and the gorgeous women that wear them oh so well. Although the representation of african american models can be quite scarce, I can still get a glimpse of some of the cocoa brown beauties that have the opportunity to grace the pages and the runways of major publications and fashion houses. That is certainly more than I can say for my ancestors before me. Seeing a black face on the runways or inside the magazine issues were unheard of until the beautiful Dorothea Towles Church gracefully made her way into an industry, that at the time saw no place for her kind beauty.

Dorothea Towles Church became the first successful black model in Paris is the 1950’s.

Mrs. Church originally set out to become in actress, however…

View original 228 more words