Bruce Silverstein Gallery: Shawn Walker: Lost & Found

Bruce Silverstein Gallery: Shawn Walker: Lost & Found
Bruce Silverstein Gallery: Shawn Walker: Lost & Found

Bruce Silverstein Gallery gift Shawn Walker: Lost and Found, an exhibition of old prints rediscovered by one of the founding members of Atelier Kamoinge. These extraordinary photographs, created during the first decade of the artist’s sixty-year career, portray and immortalize members of the artist’s community who were too often overlooked and invisible, serving as a window into the origins of the creative practice of the artist. Having lain dormant, safely preserved and forgotten in the archives of the Schomburg Center for Research on Black Culture for more than half a century and now reunited with the artist, many of the photographs exhibited in FOUND OBJECT are shown in public for the very first time. These are some of the few early prints still in the artist’s possession after his archive of over 100,000 images was acquired by the Library of Congress in 2019 in what would become the first photographic archive of a black artist. purchased by the institution.

Shawn W. Walker (b. 1940) was born and raised in Harlem, New York, with parents from “The Jim Crow South”. As an adult, he fell in love with photography thanks to his uncle, an avid street photographer. Around 1960, Walker began roaming the streets of his Harlem neighborhood with his camera, documenting the life of a vibrant and diverse community. In 1963 a friend of Walker invited him to West 112 Street in Harlem at Al Fennar’s apartment where he met and joined the photographers who became The Kamoinge Workshop, a newly formed collective of local black photographers who shared the goal common to elevate the perception of the black community in America and abroad through positive images. The Kamoinge studio continues to be the oldest photography collective in the world and has recently been featured in exhibitions at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, the Whitney and the Getty. Walker remains an active member of the Atelier to this day.

Through Kamoinge Walker was exposed to artists such as Louis Draper, Adger Cowans, Roy DeCarava, Al Fennar and most importantly Ray Frances, Walker received his true education, attending weekly photography reviews and in-depth discussions and lessons in painting, cinema, literature and jazz. He often worked two or three jobs to support himself in those early years, but in 1965 he joined as a founding member of the Third World Newsreel, alongside his other job as a photographer for the Harlem Daily. While on staff at Newsreel, he was given a major three-month tour of Cuba where he would photograph everyday life, specifically creating a film documenting the construction of a new school. This trip, although successful, led to Walker being listed by the FBI as an insider threat. Deciding to stay out of the United States, he was invited to Guyana to visit a friend. During his stay in Guyana, he assimilated into a culture close to his own, declaring: “when I traveled to photograph, I never felt inclined to visit Europe; I always felt connected to people in Africa. Works from Cuba and Guyana are presented in this exhibition.

Walker began photographing parades in New York City beginning in 1960. Walker viewed these gatherings as an opportunity to explore, integrate, and learn about himself within other age-old traditions. Like most black Americans, Walker is unaware of his cultural roots; his family origins are lost over the years of imperialism and slavery. Walker says, “I wanted to know how these rituals happen and what they mean for this specific culture.” Walker’s images would reveal the paradoxes and nuances of his subjects’ lives. He continues his Parade series today but in a limited way.

It was in the late 1950s to early 1960s that drugs began to devastate Walker’s community – “about 75% of the guys I grew up with died, got shot or ended up in jail – it was an intentional situation created to destroy us as a people”. Drug use and abuse completely changed the landscape of Walker’s neighborhood, and Walker fell prey to its allure. As Walker says, “Most of the photos I took for my drug series were just quick snapshots of the people I was hanging out with at the time.” The resulting images proved to be among Walker’s most intimate and were later featured in an Essence magazine expose in 1970. Walker notes that he chose to follow his art and not the street. In the 1970s he moved to 6th Avenue and 38th Street to an area where several other Kamoinge members had studios, and later moved to the Bronx for a short time. He returned to Harlem in the early 1980s.

In 1980 Shawn Walker received his BFA from Empire State College and taught photography at the City College of New York for almost 40 years. In addition to teaching at City College, Walker has also taught at York, BMCC, Queensborough and several other programs.

Shawn Walker’s photographs have been featured widely across the country in solo exhibitions and alongside other Kamoinge photographers. Working together: Louis Draper and the photographs of the Kamoinge workshop traveled across the United States, beginning in Virginia and ending at the Getty.

Walker’s work has also been included in numerous publications such as Working Together: Louis Draper and the Kamoinge Workshop (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 2020); Timeless: Photographs by Kamoinge (Schiffer, 2015); The Self in Black and White: Race and Subjectivity in Postwar American Photography (Dartmouth, 2010); Committed to the Image: Contemporary Black Photographers (Brooklyn Museum of Art, 2001); Nueva Luz: A Photographic Journal, Volumes 5-8 (En Foco, 1997); Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers (WW Norton, 2000); and An Illustrated Bio-Bibliography of Black Photographers, 1940-1988 (Garland, 1989).

Shawn Walker’s work is in many public collections, including the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY; Harlem Arts Collection, New York, NY; James Van Der Zee Institute, New York, NY.; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA; National African American Museum, Wilberforce, OH; New York Public Library, Main Branch, New York, NY; The Schomburg Center for Research on Black Culture; The Studio Museum, New York, NY; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; The Getty, Los Angeles, CA; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA; and the William Patterson Foundation. Walker’s archives are held by the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Shawn W. Walker: Lost and Found opens Thursday, January 26 with an artists’ reception from 6 to 8 p.m.

Shawn W. Walker: Lost and Found
January 26 – March 4, 2023
Bruce Silverstein Gallery
529 20th Street West – 3rd floor
New York, NY 10011
www.brucesilverstein.com

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