An exhibition of archival imagery by Maurice Sorrell (1914-1998), the first Black member of the White House Photographers Association


Deborah Willis

A conversation about photographing the beauty of Black life and community

Fields of Knowledge
  • Memory
  • Public culture
  • Social Justice

Organizing Institutions

Penn Social Policy & Practice, Slought


Stephanie Renée

Opens to public





4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Slought and Penn School of Social Policy & Practice are pleased to announce a conversation with Deborah Willis on Thursday, July 19 from 7-8pm at Slought. Curator Stephanie Renée will dialogue with Willis about the importance of preserving history and archiving as a political and cultural project. This event has been organized in conjunction with the exhibition Photographic Memory, an exhibition of archival imagery by Maurice Sorrell (1914-1998), on display at Slought from June 21, 2018 to July 21, 2018.

Dr. Deborah Willis uses her camera lens to present a holistic, engaging, and personal view of Black life in America and Black presence on a global scale. From the Reconstruction era through contemporary times, she will address the need to reconstruct our national consciousness around Black life, Black beauty and Black contributions to history.

Audience members are also invited to bring a favorite photograph from their personal collections to this event, to be scanned and shared with visitors to the exhibit. Subject matter and image size may vary. The only qualifying criteria is that the image has meaning for the participant! The images and the brief caption you provide will be gathered and arranged as a slideshow for the Slought website, reflecting the diversity of perspective and experience of those who have engaged the installation. It is a celebration of life, through your lens.

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Deborah Willis is Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, and Director of the Institute of African American Affairs/Center for Black Visual Culture. Her research and courses examines photography's multifaceted histories, visual culture, the photographic history of Slavery and Emancipation, contemporary women photographers and beauty. She received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship.

Willis is the author of Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present (2009), and the co-author of, among others, Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery (2012) and Michelle Obama: The First Lady in Photographs (2009) -- both a NAACP Image Award Winner.

Willis curated numerous exhibitions, including "In Pursuit of Beauty" at Express Newark; "Let Your Motto Be Resistance: African American Portraits" at the International Center of Photography and "Reframing Beauty: Intimate Moments" at Indiana University. Since 2006, she has co-organized thematic conferences exploring imaging the black body in the West. She has appeared and consulted on media projects, including documentary films Through A Lens Darkly (2014), PBS's American Photography, and Question Bridge: Black Males (2012), a transmedia project which received the 2015 ICP Infinity Award.