“From Beyoncé to Barack Obama, it’s hard to think of a black figure who does not owe their prominence, in some measure, to the ethos of ‘Black is Beautiful’” —Ekow Eshun, Financial Times
In the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, Kwame Brathwaite used his photography to popularize the political slogan “Black Is Beautiful.” This monograph—the first ever dedicated to Brathwaite’s remarkable career—tells the story of a key, but under-recognized, figure of the second Harlem Renaissance.
Inspired by the writings of activist and black nationalist Marcus Garvey, Brathwaite, along with his older brother, Elombe Brath, founded the African Jazz Arts Society and Studios (AJASS) and the Grandassa Models (1962). AJASS was a collective of artists, playwrights, designers, and dancers; Grandassa Models was a modeling agency for black women, founded to challenge white beauty standards. From stunning studio portraits of the Grandassa Models to behind-the-scenes images of Harlem’s artistic community, including Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln, and Miles Davis, this book offers a long-overdue exploration of Brathwaite’s life and work
Kwame Brathwaite is represented by Philip Martin in Los Angeles. Beginning in the early 1960s, Brathwaite photographed stories for black publications such as the New York Amsterdam News, City Sun, and Daily Challenge, helping set the stage for the Black Arts and Black Power movements. By the 1970s, Brathwaite was one of the era’s top concert photographers, shaping the images of such public figures as Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, James Brown, and Muhammad Ali. Brathwaite wrote about and photographed such landmark events as the the Motortown Revue at the Apollo (1963); Wattstax ’72 (1972); the Jackson 5’s first trip to Africa (1974); and the festival “Zaire ’74,” which accompanied the famous Foreman-Ali fight, the “Rumble in the Jungle.” Recent acquirers of Brathwaite’s work include the Museum of Modern Art and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College.
Photographs by Kwame Brathwaite. Text by Tanisha C. Ford and Deborah Willis.