Get to Know the Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop

Working Together is an unprecedented exhibition that chronicles the formative years of the Kamoinge Workshop, a collective of Black photographers established in New York City in 1963. “Kamoinge” comes from the language of the Kikuyu people of Kenya, meaning “a group of people acting together,” and reflects the ideal that animated the collective. In the early years, at a time of dramatic social upheaval, members met regularly to show and discuss each other’s work and to share their critical perspectives, technical and professional experience, and friendship. Although each artist had his or her own sensibility and developed an independent career, the members of Kamoinge were deeply committed to photography’s power and status as an independent art form. They boldly and inventively depicted their communities as they saw and participated in them, rather than as they were often portrayed. 

This presentation focuses on the influential work of founding Kamoinge members during the first two decades of the collective. It includes approximately 140 photographs by fourteen of the early members: Anthony Barboza, Adger Cowans, Daniel Dawson, Louis Draper, Al Fennar, Ray Francis, Herman Howard, Jimmie Mannas, Herb Randall, Herb Robinson, Beuford Smith, Ming Smith, Shawn Walker, and Calvin Wilson. Nine of these artists still live in or near New York City. The photographs provide a powerful and poetic perspective of the 1960s and 1970s during the heart of the Black Arts Movement. Working Together also presents an overview of many of the group’s collective achievements, such as exhibitions, portfolios, and publications.

Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop is organized by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and curated by Dr. Sarah Eckhardt, associate curator of modern and contemporary art, VMFA. The installation at the Whitney is overseen by Carrie Springer, assistant curator, Whitney Museum of American Art, with Mia Matthias, curatorial assistant.

“With art it’s cerebral, but there has to be a time to let go. In any craft, you learn the basics. And then you just go. An opera singer or jazz musician run scales all day and when it comes to performing they just sing or play. So photography was like that, you learn about lighting. You have the rudiments of the craft within you and then you just let it flow.”—Ming Smith, member of the Kamoinge Workshop

During a time of political and social upheaval, the members of the Kamoinge Workshop—a collective of Black photographers established in New York City in 1963—were deeply committed to photography’s power and status as an independent art form. They boldly and inventively depicted their communities as they saw and participated in them, rather than as they were often portrayed. Opening this week, the exhibition Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop chronicles the influential work of founding members during the first two decades of the collective.

Visit the exhibition beginning Saturday, November 21, or become a member to attend preview days starting Thursday, November 19. Please also join us virtually on December 3 to explore the exhibition with assistant curator Carrie Springer and curatorial assistant Mia Matthias at our next “Ask a Curator” Zoom event.

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In New York, the exhibition is sponsored by 

Generous support is provided by Judy Hart Angelo and the Whitney’s National Committee.

Major support is provided by The Keith Haring Foundation Exhibition Fund.

Significant support is provided by Affirmation Arts Fund.

Additional support is provided by the Phillip and Edith Leonian Foundation.

Conservation support for this project was provided through a grant from the Bank of America Art Conservation Project. 

Anthony Barboza, Kamoinge Members, 1973. Gelatin silver print: sheet, 13 15/16 × 11 1/16 in. (35.4 × 28.1 cm); image, 9 13/16 × 10 in. (24.9 × 25.4 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Jack E. Chachkes Endowed Purchase Fund 2020.55. © Anthony Barboza
Anthony Barboza, At the Met, Ming, 1974.

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