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August 04, 2022

Acquisition: Eight Works by Four African American Photographers

Chester Higgins Jr.,  "Early Morning Coffee, Harlem"

Chester Higgins Jr.
Early Morning Coffee, Harlem, 1974
gelatin silver print
image: 15.9 x 23.8 cm (6 1/4 x 9 3/8 in.)
sheet: 20.3 x 25.3 cm (8 x 9 15/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund

The National Gallery of Art has acquired eight works by four modern and contemporary African American photographers: Adger Cowans (b. 1936), Chester Higgins Jr. (b. 1946), Herman Howard (1942–1980), and Herb Robinson (b. unknown). Encouraged by Gordon Parks (1912–2006) and Roy DeCarava (1919–2009), they represent an important achievement in the history of photography—they empowered themselves to represent their own Black communities during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

Cowans, Howard, and Robinson were all early members of the Kamoinge Workshop, a group of Black photographers formed in 1963 to study together and share their work and ideas. Their images join those of fellow Kamoinge members Anthony Barboza (b. 1944), DeCarava, Louis Draper (1935–2002), James "Jimmie" Mannas (b. 1940), Beuford Smith (b. 1941), Ming Smith (b. 1947), and Shawn W. Walker (b. 1940) in the National Gallery’s collection.

Chester Higgins studied at Tuskegee University and began photographing friends, family, and civil rights protests, focusing on the dignity of his community. He traveled widely and became known for his poignant depictions of Black people—especially in Harlem—and their spiritual connections to the African diaspora. He was a staff photographer for the New York Times from 1975 to 2014.

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