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National Museum of African American History and Culture Presents New Book Series Based on Photography Collection

“The power of photographs is not only the ability to depict events, but to bring human scale to those experiences”—Lonnie G. Bunch III


Photography has served a crucial role in providing a visual record of African American history. “Double Exposure,” is a major new multi-volume series based on the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC)’s photography collection. The photography showcases a striking visual account of key historical events, cultural touchstones and private and communal moments to illuminate African American life.

In addition to featuring more than 50 photographs from a broad range of African American experiences, each themed volume in the “Double Exposure” series includes contributions by leading contemporary historians, activists, photographers and writers. Many of the images in the series are by famous photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Spider Martin, Wayne F. Miller, Gordon Parks and Ernest C. Withers. There are also iconic images, such as McPherson & Oliver’s “Gordon under Medical Inspection” (circa 1867). These take their place next to unfamiliar or recently discovered images, including work by Rev. Henry Clay Anderson of everyday life in the black community in Greenville, Miss., during the height of the Jim Crow era.

“Photography is an art form that connects us all,” said Rhea L. Combs, NMAAHC curator and head of the museum’s Earl W. and Amanda Stafford Center for African American Media Arts. “The ‘Double Exposure’ series shows us how photography captures the hopes, challenges, and promise of humanity.”

The first volume in the “Double Exposure” series, Through the African American Lens, is an introduction to the collection, revealing the ways in which African Americans have used activism, community and culture to fight for social justice and create a better life. Insightful commentaries are made by Deborah Willis, the award-winning scholar, and Rhea L. Combs, curator of photography. Civil Rights and the Promise of Equality, the second volume, commemorates the ongoing fight to fulfil the promise of freedom and equality for all American citizens. It features powerful images from Leonard Freed’s 1968 series, “Black in White America,” as well as Ernest C. Withers’ photographs of the 1968 Sanitation Workers’ Solidarity March in Memphis, Tenn., and Charles Moore’s documentation of police brutality during the 1963 Birmingham Children’s’ Crusade. Volume Three, African American Women, highlights NMAAHC’s rich collection of photographs of African American women, including icons such as Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Lena Horne and Grace Jones. It demonstrates the dignity, joy, heartbreak, commitment and sacrifice of women of all ages and backgrounds, with photographs by Cartier-Bresson, Beverly Conley, Wayne F. Miller, P.H. Polk, Joe Schwartz, Milton Williams and Ernest C. Withers. African American Women also features images from Robert Galbraith’s powerful 1952 series, “Reclaiming Midwives,” which displays the traditionally prominent role midwives occupied in African American communities, especially in the rural South.

The “Double Exposure” series will continue with volume four, Picturing Children, to be published in 2016. Visit for updates. Through the African American Lens is now for sale on and in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History shop, the Smithsonian Castle, the Smithsonian Museum of African Art and the Smithsonian store at Union Station.


Lonnie G. Bunch III is the founding director of NMAAHC, and a widely published author who has written on topics ranging from African Americans in the military to all-black towns in the American west. Rhea L. Combs is a photography historian, a curator at NMAAHC and head of its Earl W. and Amanda Stafford Center for African American Media Arts. Kinshasha Holman Conwill is an artist, art historian, deputy director of NMAAHC and former director of the Studio Museum in Harlem where she curated more than 40 art exhibitions. U.S. Rep. John Lewis, (D-GA), captured in many of the iconic photographs from the Civil Rights Movement, was one of the organizers of the 1963 March on Washington and the lead sponsor of the federal legislation that created the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Bryan Stevenson is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and a professor at NYU School of Law. Natasha Trethewey is a poet, winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Price in Poetry and served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 2012 to 2014. She is a professor of English and creative writing at Emory University in Atlanta. Deborah Willis is an art photographer and professor and chair at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, and a founding member of the NMAAHC Scholarly Advisory Committee. The series co-editors are Laura Coyle, head of cataloguing and digitization at NMAAHC, and Michèle Gates Moresi, supervisory museum curator of collections at NMAAHC.

About the Series

Price: $16.95 (each book)


Volumes 1 and 2: 80 pages, Volume 3: 72 pages

180 × 180 mm (7⅛ × 7⅛ in)

Up to 75 B&W illustrations

Published by GILES in association with NMAAHC

Vol. 1: Through the African American Lens

Introduction by Rhea L. Combs; essay by Deborah Willis; foreword by Lonnie G. Bunch III

ISBN 978-1-907804-46-5

Available now in bookstores and via online booksellers.

Vol. 2: Civil Rights and the Promise of Equality

Essays by John Lewis and Bryan Stevenson; foreword by Lonnie G. Bunch III

ISBN 978-1-907804-47-2

Publication June 2015

Vol. 3: African American Women

Poems by Natasha Trethewey; essay by Kinshasha Holman Conwill; foreword by Lonnie G. Bunch III

ISBN 978-1-907804-48-9

Publication June 2015

Distributed in the U.S. and Canada by CBSD, Consortium Book Sales & Distribution,

Available in bookstores and via online booksellers.

About the Museum

The National Museum of African American History and Culture was established in 2003 by an Act of Congress, making it the 19th Smithsonian Institution museum. Scheduled for completion in 2016, it is under construction on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on a five-acre tract adjacent to the Washington Monument. As a museum of the twenty-first century, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) has begun to document diverse experiences that allow us to view American stories through an African American lens. The “Double Exposure” series draws on the Museum’s growing photography collection of over 15,000 images, which also supports the innovative Earl W. and Amanda Stafford Center for African American Media Arts (CAAMA). CAAMA, a physical and virtual resource within NMAAHC, encourages the preservation and interpretation of photography and film, video, and other media, including oral histories and sound recordings by and about African Americans. Through its public and scholarly programs and publications, CAAMA promotes African American visual culture through its collection, promotion, and production of visual and aural media.

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