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Through a Lens Darkly


The first documentary to explore the role of photography in shaping the identity, aspirations and social emergence of African Americans from slavery to present, Through a Lens Darkly traces the nearly 200-year struggle to counter demeaning and stereotyped images with positive and authentic ones, probing the recesses of American history by discovering photographs that have been suppressed, forgotten and lost.

“A rich, moving documentary … an expansive, fast-moving look at the African American experience since slavery.”- Ernest Hardy, LA Weekly

The story begins with slavery and the Civil War, followed by the call for new images by such leaders as Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B. Du Bois. Pioneer portraitists such as the Goodridge Brothers in Pennsylvania and James Vanderzee in Harlem paved the way for inspirational figures like Gordon Parks, Roy DeCarava, and Carrie Mae Weems. Bringing to light the hidden and unknown photos shot by both professional and amateur African American photographers, the films opens a fascinating window into the lives, experiences and perspectives of black families that is absent from the traditional historical canon. Inspired by Deborah Willis’ book Reflections in Black, photographer/filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris links the broader picture to his own personal and family history, crafting a moving, wide-ranging and often astonishing chronicle through lively interviews and an incredibly rich trove of unforgettable photographs. (Dir. by Thomas Allen Harris, 2014, USA, 92 mins., Not Rated)