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Black photographers share, cooperate and show

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

By Ervin Dyer, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Six dancing Africans are strutting their stuff at the Panafest celebration in Ghana. As they sway to the drums, it's hard to tell which is brighter, their colorful traditional garb or their smiles. The viewer is absorbed into the swirl.

One of 22 images on display at the Black Photographers exhibit at the Markitaara Studios, Uptown, is Ahmed Sandidge's "God Lives in Homewood."

A dark-haired sleeping infant lies swaddled in beige sheets. Embraced by the soft sun, he dreams. Your eyes don't want to let go.

Five young men in silky blue gowns and mortarboards beam at their high school graduation. Their pride is showing.

The photographs are part of a collection of 22 on display at the Makitaara Studios, Uptown.

There is no theme. The photos are drawn from the broad, disparate interests and styles of a community of photographers. There is color and black and white. There is digital and old-fashioned darkroom technique. There is portraiture and still life. There is amateur and professional.

The linkage is behind the lens.

All the photographers are black Pittsburghers and the images -- a first showing for the group -- are a treasure trove.

Or more like a family album.

"Everybody got to choose their favorite work," said Joyce Baucum. "We picked something we liked."

Baucum's black-and-white work of a father holding a young daughter in his arms while looking at a muscled sculpture of an African man hoisting his child to the sky is image number 17 in the show. There's something religious about its tone.

 
 

The Black Photographers Group meets about once a month. To find out more, call Ed Barbour at 724-745-3432. The exhibit continues at Markitaara Studios, 1505 Fifth Ave., Uptown, until Saturday. The show is open Wednesday and Thursday from 5:30 to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

   
 

She shot the piece at the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta while on a civil rights tour of the South.

The Black Photographers Group has been around for about five months.

Its roots go back about a decade. That's when local photographer Ed Barbour began to see more black men and women with cameras in their hands out in the community, documenting their worlds. He gradually collected names and phone numbers and encouraged them to keep in touch.

Soon, the camaraderie developed into something more organized.

The goal of the group is have each one lift one.

They plan to share information on techniques, Web design and digitizing and come together to exhibit.

In fact, the space is donated by Makitaara Studios. One of the proprietors, Charles Kyobe of Uganda, belongs to the group. His photo shows a close-up of two young women. Their cornrow hair designs are a study in contrasts.

"We don't want to have to compete to show," said Baucum of West Mifflin. "This is all about cooperation."

The night before the show opened on April 26, the photographers were cutting frames, matting and hanging their work: "It was like a party," said Baucum.

With a background in ceramics and graphic design, Jacques Baynes of Brighton Heights is relatively new to photography.

"The group welcomed me," Baynes said. "'We've been yoked, bonded by our love of photography and spirit."

Darkroom work can be a solitary task, and black photographers can feel a greater isolation navigating the mainstream of shows, classes and exhibitions, where they are often the only minority around.

That's why the black photography group is so important, said Baynes.

"It's about getting together and learning from each other. Exhibiting is secondary," he said. "Those opportunities will come up. This is about building stability."

For the exhibit, Baynes is showing off a digital print: "Black Rhinoceros."

Taken at the Pittsburgh Zoo, the image shows his two smiling, embracing sons on an outing. In the background is the zoo's black rhinoceros. It's a unique mixture of cuteness, nobility and strength.

Ahmed Sandidge, a former New York fashion photographer and Pittsburgh native, believes the group can keep black photographers growing.

"We've got to keep pushing ourselves to do new work," said Sandidge. "That's how we get better."

Sandidge's photo is of a young male with yellow flowers in his hand. In the background is a wall with the graffiti "God Lives in Homewood." The spiritual message of renewal is significant considering the photo was taken behind the Mr. Tommy's Carwash, not far from where a little girl, her father and another young black man were slain.


Ervin Dyer can be reached at edyer@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1410.

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