On Thursday, March 31, 2022, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture will open its spring exhibition Been Seen, an exploration of the work of Austin Hansen and the Black gaze in photography.
Harlem-based photojournalist, studio photographer, and documentarian, Austin Hansen (1910-1996) ran a photo studio on West 135th Street that doubled as a gallery and exhibition space.
Hansen began photographing in nightclubs, freelanced for the Amsterdam News, trained as a combat/war photographer in the Navy, and continued to document community life in Harlem until his death in 1996.
Hansen’s work captured the Black community at its most candid. In addition to documenting everyday life – funerals and weddings, street scenes with mothers and children, Harlem architecture and social spots – Hansen captured images of notable political leaders (Marcus Garvey and Martin Luther King Jr.), scholars and authors (Lawrence D. Riddick and Langston Hughes), and entertainers (Eartha Kitt and Josephine Baker), and others.
Following a donation from Hansen in 1986, the Schomburg Center now holds a collection of 500,000 portraits of African American families, clergy, political leaders, entertainers, writers, and community members taken by the photographer.
The Austin Hansen Collection also includes correspondence, original photographs, news clippings, programs for special events held at many historic Harlem churches, and other social events in Harlem and elsewhere.
The exhibition has Been Seen places the work of Austin Hansen in conversation with seven luminary contemporary photographers: Dario Calmese, Cheriss May, Flo Ngala, Ricky Day, Gerald Peart, Mark Clennon, and Lola Flash.
Their practices explore identity, Black experiences, visual culture, and portraiture.
The exhibition will run until Winter 2023 in the Latimer Gallery at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Founded in 1925 and named a National Historic Landmark in 2017, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is one of the world’s leading cultural institutions devoted to the preservation, research, interpretation, and exhibition of materials focused on African American, African Diasporan, and African experiences.
As a research division of The New York Public Library, the Schomburg Center features diverse programming and collections totaling over 11 million items that illuminate the richness of global black history, arts, and culture.
Learn more at schomburgcenter.org.
The New York Public Library
For over 125 years, The New York Public Library has been a free provider of education and information for the people of New York and beyond.
With 92 locations—including research and branch libraries—throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island, the Library offers free materials, computer access, classes, exhibitions, programming, and more to everyone from toddlers to scholars, and has seen record numbers of attendance and circulation in recent years.
The New York Public Library receives approximately 16 million visits through its doors annually and millions more around the globe use its resources at www.nypl.org.
To offer this wide array of free programming, The New York Public Library relies on both public and private funding.
This is the second Schomburg Exhibition up – Boundless: 10 Years of Seeding Comic Book Futures opened in January 2022 and chronicles 10 years of our Black Comic Book Festival. The Schomburg encourages checking attendees to check out both shows to get a full experience at the Schomburg Center, especially if you’re enchanted with art and photography!
Learn more about how to support the Library at nypl.org/support.
Photo credit: 1-3) The New York Public Library.