Brathwaite came to photography through music. In 1956, after seeing photographs taken in the dim light of a club during a music event organized by AJASS (African Jazz-Art Society and Studios), a group that he co-founded, Brathwaite was inspired to pick up a camera himself. Initially, he took pictures in support of a larger cause—uplifting the “Black is Beautiful” movement, which he helped to shape in New York by organizing fashion shows and concerts that celebrated African beauty, culture, and heritage, and subverted Western beauty standards. This start grew into a prolific career documenting the visual culture of everyday and celebrity life that unfolded alongside the civil rights and Black Power movements.
This exhibition focuses on Brathwaite’s passion for music, for it not only ignited his photography career and led to his writing music reviews for numerous international publications in the 1970s, addressing the distinct sounds of soul, R&B, and funk, but his love of music also informed his pictures and his approach to photography. Brathwaite has stated a lifelong desire to depict “the essence of Black experience, as a feeling, a drive, and an emotion” that are heard and felt through music. Fittingly, the presentation’s title comes from the headline Brathwaite wrote for his review of Stevie Wonder’s 1976 album, Songs in the Key of Life. Brathwaite’s title, Things Well Worth Waiting For, both conveys how eagerly anticipated Wonder’s album was and also captures his own view of the 1970s as a period of uncertainty as well as great possibility.
Since Brathwaite’s retirement in 2018, his family has begun the invaluable work of organizing the artist’s immense archive. This exhibition presents a selection of photographs, magazines, albums and color slides from the 1960s to the 1980s that form the Brathwaite Archive, many of which are on view for the first time in decades.
Kwame Brathwaite: Things Well Worth Waiting For is curated by Grace Deveney, David C. and Sarajean Ruttenberg Associate Curator, Photography and Media. It is on view in Gallery 188 from –