Posing Beauty

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African American Images fom the 1890's to the Present

By Deborah Willis

Long overlooked in American culture, African American beauty finally get its due in this landmark work.

As a student in the 1970s, Deborah Willis came to the realization that images of black beauty, female and male, simply did not exist in the larger culture. Determined to redress this imbalance, Willis examined everything from vintage ladies’ journals to black newspapers, and started what would become a lifelong quest. With more than two hundred arresting images, many previously unpublished, Posing Beauty recovers a world many never knew existed. Historical subjects such as Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker illuminate the past; Angela Davis and Muhammad Ali take us to the civil rights era; Denzel Washington, Lil’ Kim, and Michelle Obama celebrate the present. Featuring the works of more than one hundred photographers, including Carl van Vechten, Eve Arnold, Lee Friedlander, and Carrie Mae Weems, Willis’s book not only celebrates the lives of the famous but also captures the barber shop, the bodybuilding contest, and prom night. Posing Beauty challenges our most fundamental assumptions about what it means to be “beautiful.”

Hardcover with jacket, 280 pages

Dimensions: 8 x 8 1/8 x 7/8 inches

Review:
"Drawing on 10 years of research and photos from archives, galleries, photographers, friends, and family, Willis reflects the broad spectrum of images of beauty over more than a century. She examines how beauty is defined, exploited, manipulated, and marketed.... An aesthetic look at black beauty by the author of Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers, 1840 to the Present." — Vanessa Bush