Deborah Willis

Board of Directors, Fall 2000-Spring 2001 Lehman-Brady Professor

Deborah Willis, Ph.D., is University Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography and Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University and has an affiliated appointment with the College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Social and Cultural Analysis, Africana Studies, where she teaches courses on photography and imaging, iconicity, and cultural histories visualizing the black body, women, and gender. Her research examines photography’s multifaceted histories, visual culture, the photographic history of slavery and emancipation, contemporary women photographers, and beauty. Recipient of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, Willis is the author of Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present and co-author of The Black Female Body A Photographic History as well as Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery and Michelle Obama: The First Lady in Photographs, both of which received NAACP Image Awards. 

Professor Willis’s curated exhibitions include: In Pursuit of Beauty at Express Newark, Let Your Motto Be Resistance: African American Portraits at the International Center of Photography, and Reframing Beauty: Intimate Moments at Indiana University. Since 2006, she has co-organized thematic conferences exploring imaging the black body in the West such as Black Portraiture[s], held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2016. She has appeared and consulted on various media projects including the documentary film Through A Lens Darkly, the transmedia project Question Bridge: Black Males, winner of an ICP Infinity Award in 2015, and the PBS documentary series American Photography.

Lehman-Brady Courses

During the fall semester Willis taught Visualizing Culture, a course exploring the range of ideas and methods used by artists, historians, sociologists, anthropologists, and critical thinkers in addressing visual culture. The course combined historical and theoretical approaches and addressed the problematic construction of art and vernacular images. During the spring, Willis taught a studio course in which students pursued photography, book art, painting, or other forms of visual art, within the context of Willis’s emphasis in the course on issues of representation, identity, and social history.

Deborah Willis