Self Portrait Jamel Shabazz

Poor righteous documents: legendary photographer and educator, Jamel Shabazz, pt. 1

Jamel Shabazz, Street Photographer, NYC

AR: Since you were influenced by your father, and his photography books, were there other photography masters at the time, like Gordon Parks and Chester Higgins, who also influenced you?

JS: Chester Higgins at that time wasn’t on my radar. Gordon Parks wasn’t on my radar. The only person really that was there was my father, because he was a photographer. He studied war, so there was a lot of books in my home dealing with war photograph and military history. So at that time, it was a photographer [named] Robert Capa, who documented World War II, so I was introduced to that early work. Robert Capa, you know, he documented a lot of that European theater. I studied the work of a lot of war photographers early on, of course it was the book, Black in White America by Leonard Freed, which came out in 1968, that dealt with the Black community. And not only did I study the images that dealt with racial discrimination and showing the disparity between Northerners and Southerners, it also introduced me to Harlem for the first time. That’s the book that got me open. Leonard Freed was white, but his writings, his journals, dealt with America. Through that book, I learned words especially at 9 years old, the word homosexuality for the first time, and I used to read that book with a dictionary, so when I was going through the book, words I didn’t understand that I was never taught in school, I had to have a dictionary with me to understand these new words. Like “what is segregation? What is racism? What is rape”? And Black in White America seemed like it was tailor made for me, because it was about the Black experience from the perspective of a white man through photographs.

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