BPL to Host University of Maryland’s Dr. Psyche Williams-Forson for the Opening of Both Sides of the Lens

Psyche Williams-Froson
The Birmingham Public Library will host an opening reception for Both Sides of the Lens: Photographs by the Shackelford Family, Fayette County, Alabama (1900-1935) on July 24 at 6:30 p.m. in the Arrington Auditorium. Dr. Psyche Williams-Forson, Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park, who has worked closely with the library to develop the exhibition, will speak about how photographs and other illustrations are used to reveal black history and culture. Her lecture, When Visual Imagery Provides Food for Thought: African Americans Before and Behind the Camera, will be a lively, interactive discussion drawing inspiration from the exhibition. Afterwards, participants will have a chance to view the exhibition and enjoy a “Heritage Food Tasting” with family recipes made by BPL staff members. Members of the Shackelford family were closely involved in developing the exhibition and will be present at the reception on July 24.

Dr. Williams-Forson is a nationally recognized expert on African American foodways and the portrayal of African Americans in photographs and other illustrations. Dr. Williams-Forson’s lecture will explore how images of African Americans eating or cooking traditional foods often reinforced stereotypes, and she will discuss how the photographs in this exhibition reveal positive aspects of African American lives often hidden in plain view. Her critically acclaimed book Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, and Power will be available for purchase at the event.

The exhibition opens in the Fourth Floor Gallery of the Central Library on Monday, July 23, and runs through Friday, September 14. This collection of photographs is, to say the least, uncommon. Rich for their visual record of everyday life in rural Alabama, they are remarkable because of the story behind them. Taken by a family of African American photographers who lived in Covin, Alabama, the images reveal the lives of the photographers as well as those being photographed. Featuring African Americans and whites who lived in or were traveling through the county, the images illustrate the significance of the photographic experience in the early 20th century and expose the places, events, and possessions valued by people in the community. The photographs are mostly outdoor portraits of families, children, couples, and individuals often posing with an object they held dear—a book, a car, a pocket watch, a gun, or a musical instrument.

The exhibition is curated by Andrew Nelson, a doctoral student at the University of Maryland, College Park, whose research on this Archives collection inspired the exhibition. Nelson will present a gallery talk on July 26 at noon. The exhibition’s co-curators are Jim Baggett and Kelsey Bates, Archivist and Assistant Archivist at the Birmingham Public Library.

The exhibition is made possible by a grant from the Alabama Humanities Foundation, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Opening Reception and Heritage Food Tasting
Speaker: Dr. Psyche Williams-Forson
Place: Central Library, Arrington Auditorium
Date: Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Time: 6:30 p.m.

Exhibition: Both Sides of the Lens: Photographs by the Shackelford Family, Fayette County, Alabama (1900-1935)
Place: Central Library, Fourth Floor Gallery
Date: July 23, 2012-September 14, 2012
Time: During Central Library's scheduled hours
Cost: Free