Skip to Content



THROUGH A LENS DARKLY: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People

Previously Played


Inspired by Deborah Willis’s book, Reflections in Black, THROUGH A LENS DARKLY (Willis is also a co-producer) casts a broad net that begins with filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris’s family album. It considers the difference between black photographers who use the camera to define themselves, their people, and their culture and some white photographers who, historically, have demeaned African-Americans through racist imagery. The film embraces both historical material (African-Americans who were slaves, who fought in the Civil War, were victims of lynchings, or were pivotal in the Civil Rights Movement) and contemporary images made by such luminaries as Roy DeCarava, Gordon Parks, and Carrie Mae Weems. The film is a cornucopia of Americana that reveals deeply disturbing truths about the history of race relations while expressing joyous, life-affirming sentiments about the ability of artists and amateurs alike to assert their identity through the photographic lens.

Note: The Digital Diaspora Family Reunion Roadshow is an interactive project that ties-in with the film. For more details, go to

USA • 2014 • 92 MINS. • First Run Features


"Mr. Harris’s film is a family memoir, a tribute to unsung artists and a lyrical, at times, heartbroken, meditation on imagery and identity. The film is always absorbing to watch, but only once it’s over do you begin to grasp the extent of its ambitions, and just how much it has done within a packed, compact hour and half… Mr. Harris marshals an impressive collection of scholars, artists and photojournalists to help us understand what we see… He is a wise and passionate guide to an inexhaustibly fascinating subject." 
– A.O. Scott, The New York Times
Click here to read the full review.

"A SWEEPING NARRATIVE that traces from the 19th century to the 21st how African-Americans presented themselves in their own photos." 
– David Gonzalez, The New York Times online

“An exhilarating approach to the history of representation. Presents a plethora of material triggering a re-evaluation of the visual history of the United States, as well as what we thought we understood about race, gender and sexuality. The connections (the filmmaker) draws are rigorous, intellectually challenging, and astonishingly moving.”
– Bérénice Reynaud, Festival Reports


Loading the player ...

THROUGH A LENS DARKLY: Q & A with filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris and producers Deb Willis, Don Perry and Ann Bennett

Recorded August 27, 2014 THROUGH A LENS DARKLY

Film Forum