“The project explores the fundamental legacy of Johnson Publishing Company archives, which feature more than 4 million images and have contributed to shape the aesthetic and cultural languages of the contemporary African American identity. Founded by John H. Johnson in 1942, his eponymous publishing company created two landmark publications for black American audiences: the monthly magazine Ebony and its weekly sister outlet Jet , whose publication was respectively initiated in 1945 and in 1951. Ebony and Jet were committed to both celebrating positive everyday events and depicting the complex realities black Americans faced in postwar USA. The magazines quickly became two of the major platforms for the representation and discussion of black culture, covering a broad range of events and personalities from historic milestones such as the March on Washington in 1963 and the first African-American astronaut to sports icons and show business celebrities. Their visual language reflected a mid-century modern aesthetic filtered through the lens of black life. This wide collection of images helps to illuminate the richness of African American professional codes, modes of dress, social structures, domestic lives and forms of beauty and glamour.
For Fondazione Prada Osservatorio, Theaster Gates has conceived a coral and participatory exhibition focused on the works of two photographers: Moneta Sleet Jr. and Isaac Sutton. As stated by Gates, “for this show, I hope to tease out the creation of female iconic moments by Sleet and Sutton and also offer small forays into the lives of everyday people through never-before-seen images from the Johnson Collection. The archives speak about beauty and black female power. Today it seems to me a good time to dig into the visual lexicon of the American book and show images that are rarely seen outside of my community. I wanted to celebrate women of all kinds and especially black women”. — Fondazione Prada
All photos are from the exhibition “The Black Image Corporation” curated by Theaster Gates at Fondazione Prada Osservatorio in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan.
Images courtesy Fondazione Prada.