EPIA: A Legacy in Photography

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The Dallas Examiner

“I encountered in the museum’s archives the Sepia photography archive and that immediately inspired me to want to bring some of these images … to the public in some way,” said John Spriggins, Richland Community College gallery director and curator of Sepia: A Legacy in Photography.

He considered the school’s current exhibition, the historical magazine that covered Black issues, and his role as former interim curator for the African American Museum in Fair Park.

“This is an important part of American history that I think individuals, organizations, should have access to.”

The array of the publication’s images – 50 black and white photos featuring news images and global figures like Malcolm X, Richard Pryor and Aretha Franklin – fill the walls of the Brazos Gallery inside Crockett Hall on the Richland campus. It began Feb. 1 and will run until Feb. 29 in honor of Black History Month.

The exhibition is a direct collaboration between the college and the museum, according to Spriggins.

“It’s been about two and a half years worth of work,” he said on the effort of culling through the 10,000 photos in the AAM archive to getting the final images onto the gallery walls.

“One of the things that Richland prides itself on is reaching out and collaborating with the community a number of different ways,” the curator continued. “Here, I saw an opportunity to have the resources that Richland provided and then the archive that the museum had and bring that to Richland for Black History Month.”

Spriggins also credited a fundraising effort and coordination between different departments on campus for the opportunity to get the photos into public view.

Sepia began publishing in Fort Worth in 1947 under the leadership of Horace J. Blackwell as Negro Achievements and highlighted articles on Black success and reader-submitted material, according to the Richland website. In 1951, two years after Blackwell’s death, George Levithan successfully guided Sepia to the point that the local publication was regularly competing with Ebony magazine.

Sepia’s final edition was printed in 1983.

With such a journalistic heritage, the Sepia exhibit is significant for two reasons, the curator offered.

“It’s a piece of American history, not just African American history, even though in the exhibition African Americans are featured,” he explained as he noted the publication’s mission to inform readers of current and history-making events. “Obviously, the most important topics of the day – things like wars, political and religious, activity around the world – and then just the day-to-day life of individuals.”

The photos help capture the sense of the times, he stated.

Creativity is also an element to consider about the show.

“The other thing is just the artist quality of the photography,” Spriggins related. “There are some fantastic images of just all kinds of people from all walks of life. All kinds of stories. All kinds of topics. But just the artistic quality, the vision of those photographers who were going out on assignment. They just brought back some fantastic images that we definitely want to share with the Dallas community, across the state of Texas, and the world.”

In a written introduction that greets gallery visitors, Spriggins further expressed his vision and purpose in what the display brings to viewers or the photos.

“In this small selection of images we are able to get a sense of time, context, and the human condition,” he wrote.

The curator believes that all who visit the Brazos Gallery will find something that will appeal to them but admitted that he had a few favorite photos in the show.

“One, specifically, is of this Black matador,” he said of a photo that depicts Ricardo Chibanga posed in the bullfighter’s traditional suit of lights. “I don’t know a whole lot of who he is in terms of his background, but I just thought it was a striking image. One, a rare photo in a sense that Blacks in Spain becoming matadors – that’s probably very uncommon – and to see him there, very dignified, and in full regalia. He’s peering back at you; I think that it’s just a really, really striking image.”

Another photo features a Black judge whose duty may have found him interpreting laws that affected the lives of Whites within his jurisdiction.

“The title of the article that the photo came from was Whites Under Black Rule and you see this very dark-skinned, what I believe [is an] African male, wearing the wig that is very colonial, very British.

“To see him there in the ruffled collar and black robe, just kind of peering out into the distance – that kind of portraiture, that kind of imagery, begs all kinds of questions.”

Spriggins hinted that there may be more in store for the photos once African American History Months ends.

“The hope is this exhibit will expand and possibly travel at some point,” he stated.

“People are able to get a slice of time from the 1960s, 70s, and even further back, but just to be able to peer back into time and see what life was like at a different point in our country,” he voiced. “I think that’s the beauty of photography.”

The exhibit is free and open to the public Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or by appointment. The gallery is located at 12800 Abrams Road.

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