Shawn Walker: A Photographer’s Search for the Magic in Everyday Life (Digital Dispora Roadshow)

Jan. 18, 2018
Retrieved from Digital Dispora Roadshow blog post (

Harlem, New York, 1992. Shawn Walker/Courtesy of Steven Kasher Gallery

Harlem, New York, 1992. Shawn Walker/Courtesy of Steven Kasher Gallery

I had the pleasure of spending time with Shawn Walker in Ethiopia in 2015 for the Pan African Workshop, where he shared with me stories about his work over 5 decades. I am now looking forward to moderating Telling Our Stories: Photographers of Spirit of Community on Sunday January 21, a discussion featuring Shawn along with photographers Henry Adebonojo, Tau Battice, and David Vades Joseph.

The Steven Kasher Gallery is also currently presenting Shawn’s first ever solo exhibition!

The exhibition surveys Walker’s evolving and wide-ranging work from the 1960s through the 1990s and proposes his importance to the photography and art of our time. Embracing and melding abstraction, surrealism, social documentary and street photography, Walker’s work challenges the myth of a singular African-American aesthetic. Each body of work marries transcendental spiritual philosophies with contemporary urban representations of African heritage. From his 30 year study of parades to his on-going series on shadows and reflections, Walker’s work is connected to profound rituals, ceremonies and masking found in African culture.

Shawn Walker is an integral part of the rich history and continuing legacy of the Kamoinge Workshop, the seminal black photography collective finally having its moment in the spotlight. As a founding member of Kamoinge, Walker studied photography with Roy DeCarava, Herbert Randall, Adger Cowans and Louis Draper. Walker also considers Charles White, Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence to be his artistic forebears. Walker was the Picture Editor of the Black Photographer’s Annual from 1973 – 1980, the first annual dedicated to the work of these artists.

Deborah Willis, historian and Producer of Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People, says of Walker’s work and Kamoinge, “The photographs are a rich contrast to the ‘headline’ images that have circulated worldwide about black communities known only as the roughest and toughest neighborhoods to live in…I consider these photographs to be a mosaic of the black experience; they expand our consciousness and challenge what we think we know about black life.” As the art historian Erina Duganne observed in an article on the diversity of the group’s imagery, “rather than speak for African Americans as a group or act as a corrective lens, the Kamoinge members used their photographs to explore how the particularities of their individual circumstances — including their collective experience of racial difference — informed and complicated their art.”

Related article: Shawn Walker: A Photographer’s Search for the Magic in Everyday Life