African, African art, Art, Art History, Black Art Historians, Black Women, Blog, Contemporary Art, Photography, Professor

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: 

Publications are found here:




Images are not my own.,,

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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