- PHOTOGRAPHER -
Here is a great story about a photographer who showed up to photography school before he owned a camera; now his work can be seen in galleries, and pioneering photographer Anthony Barboza fought for black artists’ inclusion.
He didn’t have a camera yet, but Anthony Barboza was going to become a photographer. The 19-year-old saved up wages from his two jobs and in 1963 made the move from New Bedford, Massachusetts, to New York. He enrolled in a photography school that he’d picked at random from the phone book, but the real education came months later, when his aunt’s friend Adger Cowans took him to a Kamoinge meeting.
Kamoinge (which means “a group of people working together” in the East African Kikuyu language) was a photography collective not yet a year old. The members wanted to create a supportive environment to nurture one another’s artistic growth through discussion and critique, and they wanted to push for the inclusion of black photographers in exhibitions. But beyond personal ambitions, they wanted to create more positive and nuanced visual narratives to counteract stereotypes seen in newspapers and on the screen. Barboza dropped out of school to learn from his newfound mentors. One day he would become the group’s director, but first he needed to buy a camera.
After a three-year stint in the Navy, finding whatever photography work he could, Barboza returned to New York in 1969 and built a portfolio from test sessions he offered to aspiring models. One of those women was Pat Evans, a black model with a freshly shaved head, whom he featured in a national cosmetics campaign for Astarte. The high-profile gig kicked both of their careers into hyperdrive.
From 1975 until 1980, Barboza worked on an art project that embodied the Kamoinge ideals. Black Borders featured artists, musicians, and writers whom he found personally inspiring — celebrities who would have been out of reach if he hadn’t become a known commercial and editorial photographer.
Unlike his portraits for Essence or Harper’s Bazaar, Black Borders wasn’t about capturing the essence of the person in front of the lens; it was about capturing the essence of how they and their work made Barboza feel. Seen side by side, the series bleeds from one print to the next, like the melange of sounds, words, and images melded together in his head.
A 1980 NEA grant paid for the publication of a monograph, and MoMA bought a print of Barboza’s photograph of saxophonist Pharoah Sanders. The brash kid who had shown up at photography school before he owned a camera was now a professional, his work seen in magazines and galleries. But he had also used his platform to draw attention to other black artists, and continued to mature and grow as an artist at the same time.
Clancy's comment: Go, Anthony!