In his new documentary “Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People,” filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris lays out the thesis that black people in this country have mostly been seen through the eyes of white image makers who have infused popular culture with Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, Darkie toothpaste, “The Birth of a Nation” and more.
Inspired by the 2000 Deborah Willis book “Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers, 1840 to the Present,” filmmaker Harris shows how these images have long conditioned our collective subconscious, informing our attitudes toward black people and often black people’s attitudes toward themselves.
As “Through a Lens Darkly” demonstrates, it’s only through the eyes of black photographers that we see differently. With the thousand words vividly painted through each picture, we connect, identify and find solidarity.
Some of the black photographers’ works here are breathtaking — and may prompt you to hunt down Willis’ book for the coffee table. But there’s so much more to take away from Harris’ documentary. It unequivocally confirms the necessity of diversity in media, the business of image making. With some of the most successful television shows this fall boasting people of color in front of and behind the camera, a centuries-old paradigm has only just begun to shift.
“Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People”
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle’s Playhouse 7, Pasadena.