Robert C. May Photography Lecture Series - Rhea Combs
As the supervisory curator of photography and film at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, Dr. Rhea Combs understands the power of images to tell stories and to write histories. She unearths film and photographs made by both professionals and amateurs, ranging from fine art and documentary photos, to home movies, family portraits, and commercial imagery and uses all of these to help “reclaim stories that are fundamentally American, but are lost or forgotten.”
Official histories of American life and accounts recorded in mainstream culture were told by and for the white population for hundreds of years. In exhibitions like Everyday Beauty: Images from the Photography and Film Collection, Combs used photographs of everyday life to create a wider picture of Black culture from the 1870s to the 1970s, examining themes of how people presented themselves, courtship and family life, faith and activism, education and uplift, and work and play. Her purpose, she has said, is to offer “a counter-narrative to these kind of flat and one-dimensional understandings of people.”
Combs, who is also director of the Earl W. and Amanda Stafford Center for African American Media Arts at the NMAAHC, has a strong interest in films. She is currently co-curating the exhibition Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898 – 1971 that will open at the forthcoming Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in 2022. Among her recent exhibitions have been Now Showing: African American Movie Posters and Represent: Hip Hop Photography. She co-curated Watching Oprah: The Oprah Winfrey Show and American Culture. Her writing has appeared in the Smithsonian’s photography book series, Double Exposure, the Public Historian, Aperture, numerous anthologies, academic journals, and exhibition catalogues on topics such as African American female filmmakers, popular culture, photography and visual aesthetics. In 2019 Time Magazine listed Combs as one of the top cultural leaders helping to change the field.
This lecture will take place on Zoom. Please preregister.
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