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John Edwin Mason
I teach African history and the history of photography at the University of Virginia.
Interests: jazz, documentary photography, carnival in cape town, racing and diversity, motor sports and diversity, and classical music.
Recent Activity
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Short answer. White supremacists capitalized on the city's decision to remove a statue of Confederate hero Robert E. Lee from a park in the center of the city. Continue reading
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The Black Photographers Annual is now freely available online. This is a very big deal for anyone who cares about photography and American cultural history -- and for anyone who teaches the subjects. Forty-five years after the first volume of the annual appeared, copies are very hard to find. As part of the exhibition, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has digitized the annuals, and they're now freely available to anyone with an internet connection Continue reading
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We'll probably look back on 2017 and say that A Commitment to the Community, an exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts that celebrates the Black Photographers Annual of the 1970s and '80s, was the most important photographic exhibition of the year. Continue reading
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Nobody moves faster than Daniella Zalcman. A big claim, but I'm pretty sure it's true. The organization that she created, Women Photograph, went from idea to reality in no more than as year. And what a tremendously impressive reality -- an online database of female visual journalists in 87 countries, a mentoring program for younger visual journalists, and a source of funding for travel and for long-term projects. Along the way, she's continued to work on Signs of Your Identity, some of the most innovative and moving documentary photography that I've seen in years. Continue reading
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This photo shouldn't exist. Two women. A passionate embrace. A deep kiss. What's it doing in a respectable 19th-century photographer's archive? Continue reading
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This is not a lynch mob. That might seem like a strange thing to say about this photo. But perhaps not, depending on your knowledge of history or the color of your skin. There's no question that a black man or woman who came across a scene like this, in 1917 -- it's somewhere just outside Charlottesville, Virginia -- would proceed with a great deal of caution. Continue reading
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Pictures are complicated. So is being black in America. Throughout his life, Gordon Parks wrestled with both of these enduring truths. At first glance, Gordon Parks' most famous photo -- his portrait of Ella Watson -- looks pretty simple. Gordon Parks/Farm Security Administration: Government Charwoman (Ella Watson). Washington, D.C., August... Continue reading
This brief post is about an unexpected coincidence. I just heard from my friend, David Parks, a photographer and filmmaker who is the son of the legendary photographer, writer, filmmaker, and composer Gordon Parks. David sent me a link to a video that showcases photos that he made when he... Continue reading
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This going to be fun. And I'm willing to bet my next paycheck that it's also going to be a fantastic artistic experience. On Saturday night, November 7th, the University of Virginia's Free Bridge Quintet will supply the music at a screening of F.W. Murnau classic silent film, Faust. The... Continue reading
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Albert M. Bender, Illinois WPA Art Project, c. 1936-1940. Continue reading
Over the last two weeks, a wave of student protests have swept over South Africa. The spark was a hike in tuition fees, which many students are already unable to afford. The deeper causes have to do with a fragile economy, gloomy job prospects, and the slow pace of transforming... Continue reading
I've never met a genius. I've spent the last 25 years teaching in major research universities. Before that I went to an awfully good grad school, and I'd still be hard pressed to say that I've met anyone that I'd call a genius -- somebody, that is, with the dazzling,... Continue reading
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When Jen Bekman asks you to write an essay about one of your favorite photographers, the only correct answer is "Yes." Jen is the CEO of 20x200, an online gallery that she created with a mission to make great art affordable for almost everyone. It's a terrific project. Last summer,... Continue reading
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Acclaimed South African photographer Cedric Nunn will visit the University of Virginia on September 16th and 17th, and I couldn't be happier. Cedric is both an artist whose work I've admired for many years and a friend. I can't wait to hear him speak and to introduce him to my... Continue reading
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When I made this portrait of Kait Dunton 10 years ago, she was a promising young pianist and composer who had just graduated from the University of Virginia. Four years earlier, she had arrived in Charlottesville as a gifted classical pianist, but she thought that her future would be in... Continue reading
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It's been a long time -- too long a time -- since I updated this blog. And I'm pretty sure that my regular readers (all three or four of them) have departed for more entertaining pastures. To them I say, please come back. Why have I been so silent? In... Continue reading
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Gordon Parks was a serious man. His claim to fame as a photographer rests on the searing photo-essays that he produced for Life magazine on issues such as poverty and racial justice. But he had a lighter side, and he revealed it, from time to time, to Life's readers. Today... Continue reading
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The most fun that I had with photography in 2014 was watching Eleanor Macnair recreate iconic photos in Play-Doh. A project that started out small and on a whim, not too long ago, became a phenomenon. Besides the original Tumblr, which has many thousands of followers, there's now a book... Continue reading
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Happy New Year, everyone! Marjory Collins/Office of War Information: New York, New York. Blowing horns on Bleeker Street on New Year's Day. January 1943. We're celebrating, today, with Marjory Collins, who worked for Roy Stryker's now legendary Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information [FSA/OWI] documentary project during World War II.... Continue reading
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Rolling Stone got it right. Nothing emerges more clearly from Lyra Bartell's "I Stand with Survivors" project than the simple fact that rape and sexual assault are serious problems at the University of Virginia [UVA] and that the university yet to adequately confront them. In these portraits -- there are... Continue reading
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Portraits never go out of style. They are, and always have been, the most popular form of photography. From the daguerreotype to the Instagram selfie, our love for portraits has been one of the constants in the history of photography. Why? Lots of reasons. We can start with the fact... Continue reading
A few days ago, photographs of the aftermath of the Israeli bombardment that left Palestinian four boys dead on a beach in Gaza prompted me to ask "What makes a photograph iconic?" The answer is several things, not just one. Iconic photos, I wrote, are both communal and personal. They... Continue reading
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Note: This has become part of a series on the politics of iconic photographs. Part 2 is here. I'll post Part 3 later this week. * What makes a photograph iconic? Why do some stick in our minds and represent for us a powerful historical memory, while others fade away?... Continue reading
Charlie Haden passed away this week. Hearing the news stopped me in my tracks. I didn't know him, but I loved his music. I was in my office, so I immediately found some of my favorite recordings by him on YouTube. (One of them is the second video below.) The... Continue reading
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I sometimes dread being invited to art openings -- especially when the invitation comes from the sponsor or the curator. It's not the awkward conversations or cheap wine that I fear. (Not much at least.) It's the worry that I won't like what I see. And, then, what do I... Continue reading