Ray Francis | Artist Overview

After receiving a twin-lens reflex camera for his fifteenth birthday in 1952, Ray Francis pursued photography and formed Group 35 with his black contemporaries in New York City, including Louis Draper, Herman Howard, and Earl James. At this time, Draper was also a member of the Kamoinge, and in 1963, with Francis’s suggestion, they combined their collectives to form The Kamoinge Workshop, a collective of Black photographers aimed at fostering community, support, and artistic development within the context of social and political change. Before the mid-20th century Civil Rights Movement and racial integration, the U.S. was marred by institutionalized racism. This era saw widespread racial inequality and media perpetuating harmful stereotypes and negative tropes of African Americans. Within The Kamoinge Workshop, these photographers were able to learn from their peers and take photographs that represented themselves, producing oppositional narratives of resistance that challenged white perceptions of blackness while creating pictorial genealogies for generations to come.

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“Ray Francis championed the Kamoinge Workshop as a fine art collective at a time when photography was seen as a lesser form; it was Ray who, through his knowledge and generosity, allowed us to see ourselves and our work as “art” within the realm of the masters in Western art history.”

Herb Robinson, member of the Kamoinge Workshop.