UArts alumna Deborah Willis (Photography, Philadelphia College of Art, Class of 1975) has been in the news again lately due to her latest book, Posing Beauty: African American Images From the 1890s to the Present (W.W. Norton & Co., 2009, ISBN 0393066967). In addition to her photographic work, Willis is considered by many to be the foremost expert on the history of African American photography. She is dear to librarians for her two important bibliographies, Black Photographers: An Illustrated Bio-Bibliography, 1840-1940 (Garland, 1985) and An Illustrated Bio-Bibliography of Black Photographers, 1940-1988 (Garland, 1989) (note that these are in the reference section of the Greenfield Library). Click here to see everything in the Greenfield Library by Willis.
What’s so great about bibliographies? Bibliographies are collections of information intended to be used and shared by subsequent researchers. Willis spent 11 years working on the 1985 bibliography, work described as “painful, meticulous labor” spent searching “private collections, seldom-used newspaper and magazine files, obscure institutional collections, and the private albums of the relatives of photographers” (foreword, p. ix). By doing so, she brought many important photographers to light, and, perhaps most importantly, made it possible for others to easily find and use the same information and build on it. Her work is a remarkable contribution to African American culture and history.
Willis will discuss her latest book at the Free Library of Philadelphia on Tuesday, December 8, at 7:30pm. Admission is free.