Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People

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Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People

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Film poster
Directed by Thomas Allen Harris
Produced by Thomas Allen Harris
Ann Bennett
Don Perry
Deborah Willis
Kimberly Steward
Screenplay by Thomas Allen Harris
Paul Carter Harrison
Don Perry
Based onReflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers 1840 to the Present
by Deborah Willis
Music by Miles Jay
Vernon Reid
Cinematography Martina Radwan
Edited by Matthew Cohn
K.A. Miille
Chimpanzee Productions
Distributed by First Run Features
Release date
  • January 17, 2014 (2014-01-17)(Sundance)
  • August 27, 2014 (2014-08-27)(United States)
Running time
92 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $16,618 [1]

Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People is a 2014 documentary film directed by Thomas Allen Harris. It is inspired by Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers 1840 to the Present by Deborah Willis, who also produced the film. [2] [3] The film had its premiere at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival on January 17, 2014. [4] [5]

Documentary film nonfictional motion picture

A documentary film is a nonfictional motion picture intended to document some aspect of reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction, education, or maintaining a historical record. "Documentary" has been described as a "filmmaking practice, a cinematic tradition, and mode of audience reception" that is continually evolving and is without clear boundaries. Documentary films were originally called 'actuality' films and were only a minute or less in length. Over time documentaries have evolved to be longer in length and to include more categories, such as educational, observational, and even 'docufiction'. Documentaries are also educational and often used in schools to teach various principles. Social media platforms such as YouTube, have allowed documentary films to improve the ways the films are distributed and able to educate and broaden the reach of people who receive the information.

Thomas Allen Harris American filmmaker

Thomas Allen Harris is the founder and President of Chimpanzee Productions a company dedicated to producing unique audio-visual experiences that illuminate the Human Condition and the search for identity, family, and spirituality. Chimpanzee Productions' films have received critical acclaim at International film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Toronto, FESPACO, Outfest, Flaherty and Cape Town and have been broadcast on PBS, the Sundance Channel, ARTE, as well as CBC, Swedish Broadcasting Network and New Zealand Television. In addition, Harris' videos and installations have been featured at museums and galleries including the Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Biennial, Corcoran Gallery, Reina Sophia, London Institute of the Arts and the Gwangju Biennale.

Deborah Willis is a contemporary African-American artist, photographer, curator of photography, photographic historian, author, and educator. Among her awards and honors, she was a 2000 MacArthur Fellow. She is currently Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography and Imaging at Tisch School of the Arts of New York University.


The film later screened at 64th Berlin International Film Festival in February 2014. [6] The film also screened at 2014 Santa Barbara International Film Festival on 5 February 2014. [7] It won the Justice Award at the festival. [8] [9] The film had a theatrical release on August 27, 2014 in United States. [10]

64th Berlin International Film Festival 2014 film festival edition

The 64th annual Berlin International Film Festival was held from 6 to 16 February 2014. Wes Anderson's film The Grand Budapest Hotel opened the festival. British film director Ken Loach was presented with the Honorary Golden Bear. The Golden Bear was awarded to the Chinese film Black Coal, Thin Ice directed by Diao Yinan, which also served as closing film.

Santa Barbara International Film Festival annual film festival held in Santa Barbara, USA

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) is an eleven-day film festival held in Santa Barbara, California since 1986.


The film narrates how African Americans have used camera to bring social changes.


The film received mixed to positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 54% of 13 film critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 6.3 out of 10. [11]

Rotten Tomatoes American review aggregator for film and television, owned by Fandango

Rotten Tomatoes is an American review-aggregation website for film and television. The company was launched in August 1998 by three undergraduate students at the University of California, Berkeley: Senh Duong, Patrick Y. Lee, and Stephen Wang. The name "Rotten Tomatoes" derives from the practice of audiences throwing rotten tomatoes when disapproving of a poor stage performance.

Zeba Blay in her review for Indiewire said that "It shows us the disturbing lynch photographs and minstrel illustrations in all their startling, horrific detail. But it also counterbalances them with countless photos of black people by black people, pictures from family albums all the way to the professional work of some of the most seminal black photographers in America. There’s an understanding that the lynch photos, the regal pictures of Booker T. Washington and Sojourner Truth, the images of Carrie Mae Weems staring straight into the camera in her Kitchen Table Series, all lie on a continuum. They’re happening now. And its through these images we’re privy to a secret history of the black photographer and the black subject, a history reaching far back into the past and shining a light on those who paved the way for everyone, all of us, to affirm our own identities through the images we take of ourselves and each other." [12] Dennis Harvey of Variety gave the film a positive review by saying that, "Though a tad uneven, as a whole the documentary cannily juggles an overview of African-American history in general with the specifics of its photographic representation and talents." [10]

Carrie Mae Weems is an American artist who works with text, fabric, audio, digital images, and installation video, but is best known for her work in the field of photography. Her award-winning photographs, films, and videos have been displayed in over 50 exhibitions in the United States and abroad, and focus on serious issues that face African Americans today, such as racism, sexism, politics, and personal identity.

<i>Variety</i> (magazine) American weekly entertainment trade magazine owned by Penske Media Corporation

Variety is a weekly American entertainment trade magazine and website owned by Penske Media Corporation. It was founded by Sime Silverman in New York in 1905 as a weekly newspaper reporting on theater and vaudeville. In 1933 it added Daily Variety, based in Los Angeles, to cover the motion-picture industry. features breaking entertainment news, reviews, box office results, cover stories, videos, photo galleries and more, plus a credits database, production charts and calendar, with archive content dating back to 1905.

The Huffington Post added it in their "10 must see films at (2014) Sundance." [13]


Year Film Festival Category Recipient(s) Result
2015 American Historical Association John E. O'Connor Film Award Nomination Thomas Allen Harris Nominated
American Library Association Notable Videos for Adults Thomas Allen Harris Won
Black Reel Awards Outstanding Independent Documentary Thomas Allen Harris Nominated
NAACP Image Award Outstanding Documentary (Theatrical) Thomas Allen Harris Won
2014 Santa Barbara International Film Festival The Fund for Santa Barbara Social Justice Award Thomas Allen Harris Won [8] [9]
10th Africa Movie Academy Awards Best Diaspora Documentary Thomas Allen Harris Won
Pan African Film Festival Festival Programmers' Award Thomas Allen Harris Won [14]
The National Media MarketBest of Show, Collegiate Thomas Allen Harris Won

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  1. "Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People". Box Office Mojo.
  2. "Through a Lens Darkly: How African Americans Use Photography to Shape Their Cultural Representation" . Retrieved May 17, 2014.
  3. "African-American History, From Family Albums to Museum Walls" . Retrieved May 17, 2014.
  4. "Sundance 2014: New Frontier Films" . Retrieved May 25, 2014.
  5. "'Through A Lens Darkly' Will World Premiere At Sundance 2014 (New Frontier, Spotlight, Midnight Selections)" . Retrieved May 25, 2014.
  6. "Through A Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People" . Retrieved May 25, 2014.
  7. "Through A Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People - Thomas Allen Harris" . Retrieved May 25, 2014.
  8. 1 2 "Santa Barbara International Film Festival Wraps Up, Award-Winners" . Retrieved May 25, 2014.
  9. 1 2 "2014 Award Winning Films Announced" . Retrieved May 25, 2014.
  10. 1 2 "Film Review: 'Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People'" . Retrieved September 3, 2014.
  11. "Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People (2014)". Rotten Tomatoes . Flixster . Retrieved September 3, 2014.
  12. "Review: 'Through A Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People'" . Retrieved May 17, 2014.
  13. "The 10 Must-See Art Films At Sundance" . Retrieved May 17, 2014.
  14. "2014 Award Winners" . Retrieved September 3, 2014.
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