Photos Celebrate Black Women


September 05, 1991|By Robert Haskins

Extraordinary photographs depicting the inner strength and ultimate triumph of black American women are on view in "I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America," which opens at the Eubie Blake National Museum and Cultural Center today.

Brian Lanker, a photographer for LIFE and Sports Illustrated, has created simple yet elegant monochrome portraits of 75 women from all walks of life, especially well-known figures from medicine, the arts and sciences, education, and other leadership positions. Each of the immense portraits is accompanied by a short biography and excerpts from interviews conducted by the photographer.

Particularly remarkable is Mr. Lanker's almost prescient insight into his subjects. The portraits of soprano Leontyne Price, poet Gwendolyn Brooks, and political figures Coretta Scott King and Angela Davis, for instance, forcefully depict the qualities of character readily known to those familiar with these very public women. At the same time, however, they capture the more private and ambiguous emotions common to us all, and, in so doing, lend their subjects an unexpected richness.

Nor is this depth of character restricted only to portraits of the famous. Photographs of the elderly school teacher Ruby Middleton Forsythe and the midwife Josephine Riley Matthews are equally compelling. Indeed, they possess a heroic grandeur quite unlike that of their more celebrated colleagues.

And even if a few of the portraits have a directness more akin to photojournalism than fine art, Mr. Lanker drives home the point that black women have contributed significantly at all levels of American society and

continue to do so. In these troubled times, few lessons are as important to remember, and rarely has such a lesson been communicated so eloquently.

The Eubie Blake Cultural Center, 409 N. Charles St., is open noon to 6 p.m. weekdays. "I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America" will be on display through Oct. 12.

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