Deborah Willis

Fall 2000-Spring 2001

Deborah Willis, an internationally acclaimed artist, historian of photography, and curator, won a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 2000, the same year she began her Lehman Brady Professorship. For more than twenty years Willis has been a leading scholar in the investigation and recovery of the rich legacy of African American photography. An accomplished photographer herself, she brings an artist’s sensibility to her scholarly and curatorial work. Her publications on two centuries of black photography have formed the bedrock of scholarly work in this field.

Exhibitions of her work include Regarding Beauty, University of Wisconsin (2003); Embracing Eatonville, Light Works, Syracuse, New York (2003-04); HairStories, Scottsdale Contemporary Art Museum, Scottsdale, Arizona (2003-04); The Comforts of Home, Hand Workshop Art Center, Richmond, Virginia (1999); Re/Righting History: Counternarratives by Contemporary African American Artists, Katonah Museum of Art (1999); Memorable Histories and Historic Memories, Bowdoin College Museum of Art (1998); and Cultural Baggage, Rice University (1995).

Recent notable projects include The Black Female Body: A Photographic History (with Carla Williams), Temple University Press (2002); A Small Nation of People: W.E.B. DuBois and the Photographs from the Paris Exposition, Amistad Press (2003); and Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers, 1840 to the Present, W.W. Norton (2000).

Willis’s awards and fellowships include the International Center for Photography Infinity Award for Writing in Photography and the Golden Light Photography Book of the Year award. Her other books include Visual Journal: Photography in Harlem and D.C. in the Thirties and Forties, Smithsonian Institution Press (1996); Picturing Us: African American Identity in Photography, The New Press (1994); and VanDerZee: The Portraits of James VanDerZee, Harry Abrams Publishing (1993). She is now a professor of photography at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.


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