Brooklyn Public Library
Rapper, Mr. X , Brooklyn, NY 2012 © Jamel Shabazz
Red, Black and Green, Harlem 2010 © Jamel Shabazz
Pride, Brooklyn, NY 2012 © Jamel Shabazz
Style and Finesse, Harlem 2010 © Jamel Shabazz
No Standing, Brooklyn, NY 1997 © Jamel Shabazz
Untitled, Brooklyn, NY 1995 © Jamel Shabazz
Righteous, Brooklyn, NY 2008 © Jamel Shabazz
Represent, NYC 2010 © Jamel Shabazz
We are one, Brooklyn, NY 2009 © Jamel Shabazz
Shriner, Harlem, NY 2012 © Jamel Shabazz
Eastern Star, Harlem, NY 2012 © Jamel Shabazz
Father's Day, Harlem, NY 1995 © Jamel Shabazz
Old School, ND, Harlem NY © Jamel Shabazz
Untitled, Brooklyn, NY 1997 © Jamel Shabazz
Standing Tall, NYC 2007 © Jamel Shabazz
Untitled, Little Italy, NYC 2010 © Jamel Shabazz
The Breezey Boys, NYC 2010 © Jamel Shabazz
Mother and Son, Harlem, 1997 © Jamel Shabazz
R and R, Central Park, NYC 2012 © Jamel Shabazz
Women of God, NYC © Jamel Shabazz
The Brooklyn Central Library stands proudly at Grand Army Plaza, firmly set in the Northwest corner of Prospect Park, shining bright with gold inlays upon its façade, recalling nothing so much as Egyptian hieroglyphics. Inside the library, the ceiling soars high above, opening its many collections to a public that loves books for pleasure, for knowledge, for enlightenment—much like Jamel Shabazz himself.
Shabazz, a native of Brooklyn, currently has a four-part exhibition on display at the Central Library now through February 28, 2013, which has been produced in conjunction with a self-published thirty-year retrospective of his photographs titled Represent: Photographs from 1980–2012. The exhibition is organized in four parts, each display in a different location on the first two floors. In the atrium of the ground floor stands an edit from Represent, a broad swath of color, spirit, and style as Shabazz see the people of the world.
He explains, “ Since picking up my first camera nearly thirty-five years ago, I was intrigued with how people within my community represented themselves. As time passed, I embarked on a self-imposed assignment to document the people of the world around me. I have been very fortunate to meet many wonderful and diverse people from around the globe, and each experience has enriched me in ways that far surpassed what I learned in history books.” His photographs bring that home, as we see people from all walks of life in their native dress, be it Dominican adolescents in their pageant best or two little Jamaican girls, with their afro puffs glorious in yellow, black, and green, or the Italian men, lined up in the window of a café in Little Italy, staring down the camera like they’re on the set of a Scorcese film. And we’re just getting started.
One of Shabazz’s many gifts is taste, his honing in on people killing it with their pride of purpose and the dignity that belies human greatness. It is seen in the dress, the posture, and the determination of spirit that he captures that make each person he pictures a king and queen. This is most evident in the installation along the balcony of the second floor, grandly overlooking the atrium and out the front doors. Here Shabazz gives us “Men of Honor and Women of Distinction,” a sweeping tribute to the heroes of modern life. In perhaps the most lovely social networking moment I’ve had in some time, Shabazz posted a brilliant portrait of eleven black women perfectly dressed in a bouquet of pastel suits and slinky heels, perfect coiffures and more than a couple of hats. To which, Spike Lee asked, “Who are they?” and Shabazz answered “Women of God.”
This is but one in a series that pays tribute to the traditions of family, community, nation, and global village, the very now that allows the earth to carry six billion people. Shabazz gives us a glimpse into but a few lives he has connected with over the years, as they organize themselves in groups or around distinguished individuals. He speaks of being influenced by dapper men of Caribbean descent, standing erect and proud. It is this bearing and carriage that Shabazz sees when he looks at law enforcement, military personnel, elders, social and political activists, and every day people organized for the greater good of our world. Whether wearing a uniform of Sunday best, in these photographs Shabazz bears witness to the men and women who uphold the principles of family, community, and civil service.
Nestled into the entrance of the Brooklyn Collection, just off the balcony, is “Reflections,” a series of over eighty photographs depicting the people of Brooklyn. There’s a lot of talk about Brooklyn, there always was. Maybe it’s something in the water, or it’s in the air. Shabazz’s photographs remind us of this, like nothing else; that despite all of the diversity of ethnicity, culture, and custom, there is something that unites these beautiful people together and that is the ground upon which they walk. I’m saying, it comes up through the ground. And in these photographs we feel it, Shabazz being a native and understanding that here we walk upon sacred ground.
Lastly, and perhaps most touchingly, is the installation up front, “Pieces of a Man” in the Foyer Cases, which you can catch when you are coming or going—both are good. Here Shabazz shows us an intimate glimpse into the art that inspires him, as a man and an artist and a native of this here Brooklyn. It begins with Leonard Freed, Black in White America, and it forces us to ask the question, what’s really changed, and what’s really good. Tough questions. We usually talk around them. But not Shabazz. He presses forth, he brings in the music of an era. 45s, 8 Tracks, we’re talking Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, the Four Tops. Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan. The list goes on. There are magazines, books, images, texts, stories, each one adding to the next, until the experience of these cases becomes a diary written by the voices of the world we know, but never fully see, until into it Shabazz brings his voice, like a bell tolling with perfect clarity.