Cherlise’s Black Archives | A Photographic Memoir Of The Black Folk

The Black Archives. A Photographic Celebration of Black Life, published last February by Ten Speed Press | Penguin Random House, is a collection of vintage pictures capturing the multifaced experience of Black American lives.

by GRIOT - Published on 07/04/2023
New York City, 1960s. Ten Speed Press/Penguin Random House

Renata Cherlise, the founder and curator of Black Archives—a multimedia platform putting together a nuanced imagery of Black people living vibrant, ordinary lives across time—has gifted the whole community with this emotional encompassing publication.

The Black Archive project started in 2015 and is now part of a long-term partnership with Getty Images. From 2019 to 2021, the visual artist launched a call for snapshot submission that obtained massive responses across and outside the country.

Thanks to Cherlise’s passion for archival photography, which started as a family tradition, the book has become a multidimensional portrait of the Black community, a silent narration representing stories, and collective memories, themed around culture and kinship.

David and Stephen Hunter pose near a television set, circa 1960. Ten Speed Press/Penguin Random House
Polaroid of the author’s parents during a night out, 1985. Ten Speed Press/Penguin Random House

The publication features more than 300 pictures of blackness and its mundanity, remarking on the value of self-taught photography and gathering and recovering family albums throughout generations.

Intimacy and joy are centered in this collection as momentous. The figures showcase reunions, nights out on the town, parents and children, church and school functions, holidays, big life events, funeral programs, family vacations, moments at home, and many more occasions of leisure, excitement, reflection, and pride. Some of them are ordered into sections, few of them are titled Things we leave behind, Style, Holding Joy, Love, and Tenderness, and The Front Porch and leafing through the pages, looking at the photos and reading their captions, one gradually perceives a mixture of nostalgia and joy enveloping the viewer’s mind.

The author’s intentionality underlines the beauty concealed behind mass-media characterization of the Black community and personae: “There is no way to define our experience,” Cherlise commented on Essence: “We are so complicated and layered. Our experiences are so different yet so similar. I think people will get that from the book. When I see the images, I think of the stories that have not been told but can now be told through these images.”

Cherlise’s documentary work magnifically frames how the African American life experience, and her aesthetic, can go far beyond their standardized depictions and through solace and imagination contained therein, this book becomes a blessing, a heartful tribute to all of the souls of the black folk.

Renata Cherlise is a multidisciplinary, research-based visual artist who uses various media to explore themes of identity, family, and culture. Cherlise’s work seamlessly bridges her Southern upbringing with contemporary methodologies in digital and physical spaces while reimagining notions of the Black experience.

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