Dr. Deborah Willis – Historian of Photography


As an artist, author and curator Deborah Willis’s art and pioneering research has focused on cultural histories envisioning the black body, women and gender. She is a celebrated photographer, acclaimed historian of photography, MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellow, and University Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.*

Willis received the NAACP Image Award in 2014 for her co-authored book Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery (with Barbara Krauthamer) and in 2015 for the documentary Through a Lens Darkly, inspired by her book Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers 1840 to the Present.*



A historian of photography and a photographer, Deborah Willis brings an artist’s sensibility to her scholarly and curatorial work.  She has written monographs on J. P. Ball, the nineteenth-century daguerreotypist, and James Van Der Zee, a twentieth-century chronicler of Harlem.  Her other research focuses on contemporary African-American photographers.  Willis has curated numerous major exhibits, including the Smithsonian exhibition Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers, 1840 to the Present (2000), which unites vintage images by masters from the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries with the work of contemporary figures.


deborah willis_Posing beauty
“Posing Beauty in African American Culture,” Willis culled images from the works of a wide array of acclaimed photographers, including Carrie Mae Weems, James VanDerZee and Cecil Beaton to curate a show in three sections: “Constructing a Pose,” “Body and Image” and “Modeling Beauty and Beauty Contests.” ***


Link to video discussing Posing Beauty in African American Culture. Click here. 

Her many books include Picturing Us: African-American Identity in Photography (1994), Harlem Renaissance: Art of Black America (1994, co-authored), Visual Journal: Harlem and DC in the ’30s and ’40s (1996, co-authored), A Small Nation of People: W. E. B. DuBois Portraits of Progress (2003, co-authored), and Family History Memory: Recording African American Life (2005).**


*Deborah Willis’ s Website: https://debwillisphoto.com/home.html 

Publications are found here: https://debwillisphoto.com/section/142075-Publications.html

Portfolio: https://debwillisphoto.com/section/137522.html

** https://www.macfound.org/fellows/653/


Images are not my own.  https://tisch.nyu.edu/about/directory/photo/95947945, https://www.vogue.com/slideshow/deborah-willis-photographs#2, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/27/deborah-willis-posing-beauty-exhibit_n_983839.html

The information on this web-page and website is for educational purposes. I do not collect any commissions for sharing links. This blog post is for educational purposes only and for sharing valuable information to others interested in the arts.

Thank you.


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