Kamoinge, Part 2: Early Exhibitions

KamoingeExhibition1In May 1964, Edward Steichen invited Roy DeCarava, who in turn invited the Kamoinge group, to exhibit at Danbury Academy of Art, Connecticut in a fundraising exhibition sponsored by the local NAACP.

In early 1965 The Kamoinge Workshop rented space at 248 W. 139th Street in Harlem, known as the Market Place Gallery. There are several references to the “brownstone basement” that became the “Kamoinge gallery.”

Their first exhibition there was “Theme Black,” in April 1965, which “dealt with the Afro-American experience.” Each Kamoinge member chose three of their own photographs for the exhibition.

From June 6 – July 4, 1965 their exhibition, “The Negro Woman,” showed at the gallery space.  Apparently this exhibition created friction both with the local community and within the Kamoinge Workshop itself. There is no explanation among Draper’s notes as to what exactly caused the conflict, but it was sufficient enough to a) cause the group to lose their brownstone gallery space and b) to cause DeCarava to resign over “workshop objectives.” Jimmie Manas then became interim director, but walked out in protest over the group’s “policy”. Ray Francis then became director. The big questions are what community nerve did the exhibition hit? What particular objectives and policies divided the group?

One of Draper's photographs, the only documented photograph, from "The Negro Woman" exhibition.

One of Draper’s photographs, the only documented photograph, from “The Negro Woman” exhibition.

The two exhibitions did gain the group a surge in visibility. Langston Hughes, Henri Cartier-Bresson, John Szarkowski of MOMA, George Ball the playwright, South African photojournalist Peter Magubane, and R.E. Martinez of Camera Magazine all came through the gallery space.

Also notably, photographer Beuford Smith joined Kamoinge in June 1965. (He resigned membership in October 1973, but became heavily involved again when the group re-congealed in the 1990s.)

The lack of designated gallery space did not hold back Kamoinge though. In 1966, they exhibited at the Countee Cullen Library (104 W. 136th Street) in a show called Perspective. “An exhibition of photographs by the Kamoinge Workshop and guests” ran July 20 – August 19, 1966. And they started working with Camera Magazine editor, R.E. Martinez, on a “Harlem” feature.

Up next: Kamoinge, Part 3: the Camera Magazine portfolio…

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