Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Black List: Photographs by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Where: National Portrait Gallery

When: through April 22, 2012

Usually the term blacklist is used to describe a group of people excluded from something, people who are not wanted or are undesirable.  Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and Elvis Mitchell decided to give a new meaning to the term, to create a new Black List - one that people would want to be on.  Greenfield-Sanders photographed 50 prominent African-Americans, and Mitchell interviewed them.  Both the photographs and the interviews are on display in this exhibit.  It is by no means an exhaustive look at every prominent or important African-American; Greenfield-Sanders and Mitchell acknowledge this in the opening description of the show.  Sadly, not everyone they wanted to include was available for the project, so some people are conspicuous by their absence.

One interesting thing about the exhibit is that even though one photographer took all the pictures, and they all are photographed against very plain backgrounds, and they are almost all face forward shots,  there's nothing boring about the show.  Greenfield-Sanders is such a talented photographer that his subject's personality comes through and grabs your attention.  The text included with each photograph is interesting as well.  I had no idea that Whoopi Goldberg came up with her stage name by combining the whoopie cushion and a nod to Jewish comedians.  I'd never really thought about her name before, but now I know the background.

I went to the show with a friend of mine, and we watched some of the interviews before the press of work called us away.  I don't know what questions Mitchell asked to elicit people's commentary on their lives and careers, but it's really intriguing to see the photographs and then hear those people talking - a very inventive combination, and one I think the museum might have highlighted more.  I didn't know there were videos until I was in the exhibit.

Verdict: Do go see this show - it's a combination of great photography, current history and thought-provoking interviews.

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