Kamoinge Workshop photographs in L.A. at Getty Center

In 1963 a group of Black photographers based in New York formed the Kamoinge Workshop. Committed to photography’s power as an art form, Kamoinge members depicted Black life as they saw and experienced it. They hoped to offer an alternative to the mainstream media of the time, which often overlooked Black culture or portrayed it negatively. 
Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop is the first major retrospective presenting photographs from the collective during the 1960s and 1970s. Highlighting each photographer’s individual artistry as well as the Workshop’s shared concerns, this exhibition celebrates the group’s self-organizing, commitment to community, and centering of Black experiences. 

“The work in this exhibition highlights Black Americans behind and in front of the camera. The Museum regularly features individual artists in monographic exhibitions, but it is important also to document and celebrate the importance of collaborative groups such as the Kamoinge Workshop,” Timothy Potts, Maria Hummer-Tuttle and Robert Tuttle Director of the J. Paul Getty Museum, said. “Working Together reflects the Getty’s continuing efforts to diversify our collection, and thereby represent a more expansive history of photography. To that end, several of the works shown in the exhibition were recently acquired for the Museum’s collection.”

Within their first year as a group, the members of the Kamoinge Workshop (pronounced “kuh-moyn-gay” by the members of the group) made a commitment to portray the communities around them. They chose the name—which means “a group of people acting together” in the Kikuyu language of Kenya—to reflect the collective model they wished to follow as well as their interest in Black communities not just at home but also outside the United States. 

The exhibition will focus on the first two decades of the collective, from the founding of the group in 1963 through the various activities of the International Black Photographers association in the early 1980s, and includes photographs by fifteen of the organization’s early members. The artists included in the exhibition are Anthony Barboza, Adger Cowans, Daniel Dawson, Louis Draper, Al Fennar, Ray Francis, Herman Howard, Jimmie Mannas, Herb Randall, Herb Robinson, Beuford Smith, Ming Smith, Shawn Walker, and Calvin Wilson. Also included are several photographs by Roy DeCarava, the first director of the Workshop. 

Images in the exhibition capture the experience of urban life at mid-century, the civil rights movement, intimate portraiture, experimental abstraction, jazz musicians, and the Black experience abroad. Though the photographers included in the exhibition produced diverse bodies of work, many of their photographs are printed with dark tones that compellingly evoke the unsettling era in which they were made.

“The Kamoinge vision remains resonant today,” notes Mazie Harris, curator of the installation of Working Together in the Getty Museum’s Center for Photographs. “The photographs in this exhibition offer a glimpse into the artistry and ambition of the workshop members, reminding us of the power of both individual creativity and collective action.”

Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop will be on view at the Getty Center July 19—October 9, 2022.

Working Together: The Photographs of the Kamoinge Workshop is organized by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and curated by Mazie Harris, assistant curator, J. Paul Getty Museum, in consultation with Sarah L. Eckhardt, associate curator, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

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