Focus On Giants of Black Music

Gantt Center exhibit on photographer Jim Alexander
by Ryanne Persinger

One of Jim Alexander's favorite photographs is of jazz artist Duke Ellington.

Alexander's black and white image, "Duke and other Legends," was shot in 1972 in New Haven, Conn.

"Duke Ellington was at Yale University at a reception (for the Duke Ellington Fellowship) on the second floor of the building and somebody came up and told Duke that Eubie Blake and some of the other inductees were there," Alexander said. "(Ellington) went right down and met them at the door. He showed his respect for them."

It's one of the photos in the exhibit "Black Music After 1968: The Photography of Jim Alexander" through June 19 at the Harvey B. Gantt Center. The exhibit opened Friday with Alexander in attendance, camera in tow.

"Jim is very consistent, even at his own show," Gantt curator Michael D. Harris said. "He would not come without his own camera."

For 50 years, Alexander has been a documentary photographer. The Gantt exhibit includes the earliest photo from 1969 (Al Green) to its most recent (Ronald Isley) in 2010. Other artists include Sammy Davis Jr., Ray Charles, Michael Jackson and James Brown.

"I'm documenting black culture," Alexander said. "I've been doing that now since the mid 1960s."

Though this particular exhibition features musicians, Alexander has also photographed the civil rights era.

"I just go where I want to go and shoot what I want to shoot," Alexander said.

Charlotte resident Ernestine Glenn was at the opening Friday.

"I'm a 1960s person so I enjoy this," she said. "I can probably recognize and identify with the photos."

Glenn says she wishes more African Americans would learn about black artists.

"We have some real talented (artists) and we have no idea who they are," she said. "I always like to know what's going on in the black community. We need to be aware of what is going on with our arts."

Alexander has a national presence. His work has been featured at the Smithsonian, Emory University, the atrium of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and CC World Gallery in New Orleans.

Alexander's first camera was a Brownie Hawk he received at boot camp in Charleston, S.C. He no longer has the original, but owns one similar to it.

A New Jersey native, Alexander lives in Atlanta, where he taught photography and conducts workshops and lectures.

Ebony Stubbs of Charlotte is doing an internship with Alexander.

"I saw his work at an exhibit in Atlanta," she said. "Even though he was no longer teaching I was persistent and I started shadowing him. He's teaching me to tell the stories with the pictures. It's just been amazing."

Alexander urges anyone who aspires to become a photographer to learn the basics and techniques of the craft.

"Learn what a good photograph is and then you can be even greater," he said.

Alexander will return to the Gantt Center in "A Jazzy Journey with Jim Alexander" at 6 p.m. Feb. 17. The event is free and open to the public; however RSVP is required.

Other exhibitions at the Gantt include: "What My Mother Told Me...The Art of Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons," through June 19 and the John and Vivian Hewitt Collection of African-American Art through Feb. 20.

Courtesy The Charlotte Post

Posted on Monday, January 31, 2011

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