“Life in a Day of Black L.A.” brings together the work of a dozen or so black photographers who roamed the city on Martin Luther King’s birthday in 1988 and for 24 hours made on-the-spot black-and-white photo portraits of the black community in action. A wonderful foil to the utterly one-sided (if inspirational) view of black life that the Cosby Show offers where the greatest struggle folks face is to be fashionably hip, these photos offer a view of L.A.'s blacks as responsible parents, aspiring professionals, superficial yuppies, teens caught in the throes of growing pains. Some images are brutal, others are tame; all are honest.
The project was conceived and executed in just a few days, and that may account for too quick curatorial decisions and the fact that many works don’t rise above family photo-album quality. Certain names are repeatedly linked with technically exact, penetrating works. In one photo after another, Don Cropper proves himself a portraitist of first rank, showing us a bright-eyed, dignified man with gray peppered hair, spectacles and winter neck scarf. Cropper’s photo of a streetwise teen couple locked in evening shadows, standing a small distance apart but leaning toward each other as if to close the space, is alone worth the visit. Karen Kennedy’s athlete stretches horizontally, echoing the rows of empty bleachers that all but obscure him. Calvin Hicks’ gentlemanly curio dealer and Michael Jones’ shots of romping elementary school children are among other works that stand out. (Black Gallery, 107 Santa Barbara Plaza, to May 21.)