Exhibition: The City Strikes A Pose

Tobi Haslett writes: ‘Jamel Shabazz was born in Brooklyn in 1960. He has documented New York street life, largely in the city’s black neighborhoods, with a cheerful guilelessness. Many of his subjects pose, even smile. His photographs are usually the result of consent, not a furtive snapshot—so people comport themselves with a bright, willful crispness, rising to the aesthetic occasion. James Van Der Zee, famous for his princely portraits of Harlem denizens in the 1920s and 1930s, is a clear influence. So, perhaps, are Mary Ellen

Mark and Louis Mendes, whom Shabazz has photographed. Sights in the City: New York Street Photographs, a new collection of Shabazz’s work from his beginnings in 1980 to the present, was released a few days after an exhibition of his pictures, “Crossing 125th,” opened at the Studio Museum of Harlem. Though there is no overlap between the book and the show—the latter exhibits only his Harlem photographs—both display Shabazz’s wish to honor and flatter, to fashion touching tributes to a certain kind of black, urban life. But politics makes its brutal intrusions; the joy of the pictures, their poignancy and fellow-feeling, is shot through with defiance.’

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