Photograph by Austin Hansen
Been Seen centers the gaze of Black photographers for whom the ordinary and the peculiarities of Black life occupy memory and is a source for exploration and celebration. The exhibition places in conversation the work of Harlem-based studio photographer Austin Hansen (1910-1996) with six contemporary photographers: Dario Calmese, Cheriss May, Flo Ngala, Ricky Day, Gerald Peart, and Mark Clennon. Their practices explore identity, Black experiences, visual culture, and portraiture.
Over six decades, Hansen produced a massive collection of more than 100,000 portraits of African American families, clergy, political leaders, entertainers, writers, and community members. Hansen had a photo studio at West 135th Street for 47 years that doubled as a gallery and exhibition space. Following a donation from Austin Hansen in 1986, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture became the repository for the Austin Hansen Collection that includes correspondence, original photographs, news clippings featuring his photographs, programs for special events held at many historic Harlem churches, and other social events in Harlem and elsewhere.
Featuring: Austin Hansen, Dario Calmese, Mark Clennon, Ricky Day, Cheriss May, Flo Ngala, Gerald Peart
Learn more about Austin Hansen in NYPL Digital Collections
About The Artists
Cheriss May discovered that visual storytelling is her passion, and found her purpose. Her work centers on the intersectionality of race, culture, and politics. Through her recent work documenting the ceremonial vote count at the U.S. Capitol, Cheriss was inside during the insurrection. Although traumatic, Cheriss continued to work while barricaded in Congressman Jim Clyburn’s office with his staff. She finds strength through telling the powerful stories of people who are passionate in what they do, resilient in spite of challenges. Cheriss is an advocate for inclusive storytellers and storytelling, lecturing and leading photography organizations that work towards gender, racial and social parity in the industry.
Dario Calmese Sitting at the nexus of art, fashion and academia, Dario is an artist, urbanist, director and brand consultant currently based in Harlem, New York. Classically trained in the performing arts, he uses his knowledge of movement, gesture, and psychology to create complex characters and narratives that explore history, race, class, and what it means to be human. In 2020 he made history as the first Black photographer to shoot a cover for Vanity Fair in it’s 106-year history with his portrait of Oscar-winning actress, Viola Davis.
Flo Ngala is a New York-based portrait photographer and photojournalist from Harlem, New York. Known for her celebrity portraits and capturing key images of artist Cardi B, Ngala’s work is at the intersection of photojournalism and portraiture. In 2019 her images of Figure Skating in Harlem, an organization with which Ngala spent most of her youth, appeared in a cover story with The New York Times for the first time. Ngala has gone on to work with companies such as Apple, Billboard, Nike and more to bring authentic image-making to the forefront of storytelling.
Gerald Peart is a self-taught professional photographer with over 30 years of service and credits to his name. A keen eye for detail and end product delivery has been the key to his sustained success. Gerald’s introduction to photography came by way of NYABJ – The New Association of Black Journalists. Being a member led Gerald to meeting and networking with some of New York’s esteemed journalists. He was chosen by CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) as a Delegation Photographer and traveled to Nigeria in 1996 during the country’s electoral process from military rule to democracy.
Mark Clennon is a New York-based photographer with a particular focus on editorial, commercial and documentary projects. Adeptly jumping between these forms of photography. In his own words, his goal is to capture the totality of the black experience. The dreams, realities and fantasies of Black people on this planet matter. I intend to document that experience as a citizen of this earth.” His images are nuanced and multifaceted, capturing joy, pain, triumph and everything in between. Clennon is based in Harlem, New York.
Ricky Day was born in Saint Louis, Missouri and raised in Los Angeles, California. He is a visual artist, photographer, filmmaker and musician working primarily with themes related to identity, sub-culture and popular culture. Day lives and works in Harlem, New York.
About The Organization
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem is one of the world’s leading cultural institutions devoted to the research, preservation, and exhibition of materials focused on African American, African Diaspora, and African experiences. As a research division of the New York Public Library, the Schomburg Center features diverse programming and collections spanning over 11 million items that illuminate the richness of global Black history, arts, and culture.