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Noted photohistorian in Syracuse this week

South Side Initiative hosts Deborah Willis, part of broad local history project:

From her recent schedule, Deborah Willis is a whirlwind. Besides finishing her new book, "Obama: the Historic Campaign in Photographs," out this Tuesday from Amistad Press, the travels of this photographer, art and photo historian, curator, scholar and writer have lately taken her as far as Nigeria and Oregon. A Guggenheim, Fletcher and MacArthur fellow, Willis is professor and chair of the Department of Photography and Imaging at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. She has worked with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, Harlem's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and New York City's International Center on Photography (ICP).

Besides her own exhibitions, she's written, edited and contributed to many books about African American photography and culture, including "Picturing Us: African American Identity in Photography" (1994), "Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers from 1840 to the Present" (2000), "The Black Female Body: A Photographic History" (2002, with Carla Williams), "Let Your Motto be Resistance: African American Portraits" (2007) and her essay for the catalogue of the ICP's important 2005 exhibition, "African American Vernacular Photography." And that's the tip of the iceberg.

Invited by South Side Initiative

When Willis comes to Syracuse next Thursday, invited by the South Side Initiative (SSI), with co-sponsors including Light Work and the Onondaga Historical Association, she'll be talking about Black vernacular photography -- the images of family and local history recorded by community-based photographers. She likes to use local examples, so she'll include some by long-time Syracuse photographer Marjory Wilkins. Besides her talk at Light Work at 6:00 p.m., Willis meets earlier with the SSI's Community Committee to Collect and Preserve Black History.

The South Side Initiative itself is a bit of an iceberg. Launched in 2005 by Syracuse University, SSI now has some 15 projects underway, all manifestations of the idea that community-university collaboration should stem from what citizens say would serve their community. These include the new Networking Academy for providing computer access, the middle-school Kuumba arts project based at Community Folk Art Center, a forth-coming food co-op and the community newspaper slated for debut next March.

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